SARS-CoV-2 Virus & COVID-19 Quick Facts
SARS-CoV-2 & COVID-19
- SARS-CoV-2 is one strain (type) of coronavirus that is part of a large family of enveloped RNA viruses that can infect mammals and birds.1 Coronaviruses are named for their crown-like spiked surfaces and cause generally mild respiratory symptoms like the common cold in humans.2
- A few coronavirus strains can cause very severe respiratory disease with significant mortality, such as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) that emerged in China in 2002-20033 and Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) that was first reported in Saudi Arabia in 2012.4 SARS-CoV-2, which was identified in China in late 20195 and declared a global pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO) in March 2020,6 7 has a much lower mortality rate than SARS or MERS.8
- A few coronavirus strains can cause very severe respiratory disease with significant mortality, such as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) that emerged in China in 2002-20039 and Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) that was first reported in Saudi Arabia in 2012.10 SARS-CoV-2, which was identified in China in late 2019 11 and declared a global pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO) in March 2020,12 13 has a much lower mortality rate than SARS or MERS.14
- People with SARS-CoV-2 infections can be asymptomatic15 or exhibit a constellation of mild or severe illness symptoms known as COVID-19, which include fever; chills; cough; shortness of breath/difficulty breathing, fatigue; muscle, joint or body aches; rash; headache; new loss of taste or smell; sore throat; congestion or runny nose; nausea or vomiting, and diarrhea.16
- Complications of COVID-19 disease include pneumonia; acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS); acute kidney, liver, and heart failure or damage; septic shock; disseminated intravascular coagulation (DIC); rhabdomyolysis (muscle breakdown); chronic fatigue syndrome; blood clots and death.17
- Serious complications of COVID-19 disease may be caused by a hyperactive immune response known as a cytokine storm, which occur when an infection triggers the immune system to flood the bloodstream with inflammatory proteins (cytokines) that can damage organs and kill tissue.18 In some young children and adolescents, SARS-CoV-2 infections may trigger multisystem inflammatory syndrome (MIS-C).19 20
- According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2020 about 94 percent of COVID-19 related-deaths occurred in persons over age 65 and individuals with underlying poor health conditions.21 Among those the CDC consider to be at highest risk for severe COVID-19 disease are the immunocompromised and women who are pregnant, as well as individuals with chronic heart, lung or kidney disease; obesity, type 2 diabetes, cancer, Down’s syndrome, sickle cell disease and thalassemia. There are other chronic health conditions that might increase risks for severe COVID-19 disease, including asthma, high blood pressure, dementia or neurologic conditions, liver disease, cystic fibrosis, and type 1 diabetes.22
- More than 200 different types of COVID-19 vaccines are being developed worldwide.23 In December 2020, two experimental mRNA COVID-19 vaccines developed and produced by Pfizer with BioNTech and Moderna with NIAID were granted an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for distribution and use in the U.S.24 25 As of Apr. 23, 2021, the CDC recommends two doses of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine administered to individuals age 16 and older,26 while the Moderna vaccine is approved for two doses administered to individuals over age 18 to prevent severe COVID-19 disease. 27
- In February 2021, Janssen Biotech, Inc. of Johnson & Johnson, was granted an EUA by the FDA for an experimental COVID-19 vaccine, which uses a human advenovirus vector28 29 30 rather than mRNA technology for production and requires one dose for individuals over age 18.31 On April 13, 2021, the FDA and CDC paused use of the vaccine after serious blood clots were reported in women between the ages of 18 and 49.32 By April 23, 2021, 15 cases and 3 deaths had been associated with the rare blood clot disorder, now referred to by health officials as thrombosis with thrombocytopenia syndrome (TTS). All cases were reported in women, with 2 occurring in women over 50 years of age. The CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) voted to resume full use of the vaccine in all persons 18 years of age and older on April 23, 2021, by a vote of 10 to 4 (with one voting member abstaining due to a conflict of interest). Those who voted against the recommendation expressed concern regarding the lack of warning on the risk of TTS in women under 50 years of age.33 34
- Several more experimental COVID-19 vaccines are expected to be given an EUA in 2021, including one developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University that uses a chimpanzee adenovirus vector and requires two doses.35 36
- An Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) granted by the FDA to pharmaceutical corporations for distribution of experimental COVID-19 vaccines in the U.S. does not mean that the agency has evaluated all safety and efficacy data and officially approved licensure of the vaccine. The EUA authorizes manufacturers to release an experimental vaccine for voluntary use and the FDA states that vaccine recipients must “have the option to accept or refuse the vaccine.”37
- As of April 23, 2021, health officials at the World Health Organization (WHO) and U.S National Institutes of Health (NIH) have warned that, while there is evidence that two doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines can prevent symptomatic COVID-19 disease, there is a lack of evidence that the vaccines are effective in preventing infection and transmission of SARS-Cov-2.38 39 40 The Janssen/Johnson & Johnson vaccine was also granted an EUA based on efficacy data that demonstrated evidence for protection against symptomatic COVID-19 disease rather than protection against infection and transmission of the new coronavirus.41
- As of April 23, 2021, there have been 118,902 reports of adverse events following vaccination with COVID-19 vaccination submitted to the federal vaccine adverse event reporting system (VAERS), including 12,619 serious adverse events, 2,435 life-threatening events, 8,149 hospitalizations, and 3,544 deaths. Reported adverse events have included pain at the injection site; fatigue; anaphylaxis; headache; muscle and joint pain; fever; chills;42 swollen lymph nodes; nausea and vomiting;43 immune thrombocytopenia purpura (ITP) (low blood platelets);44 45 Bell’s Palsy;46 cardiac arrest; neurological dysfunction; rheumatoid arthritis; blood clots; heart, kidney and liver failure;47 and death.48 49 50
- The CDC states that contraindications to receiving COVID-19 vaccines include (1) a history of severe allergic reaction to a previous vaccine dose or any of its ingredients; (2) a history of an immediate allergic reaction of any severity to a previous mRNA COVID-19 vaccine dose or to any of its ingredients. A polyethylene glycol (PEG) allergy is considered a contraindication to mRNA vaccines, while a polysorbate allergy is considered a contraindication to Janssen vaccine. The CDC states that a person with a contraindication to mRNA vaccination may be able to receive the Janssen vaccine and vice versa provided that precautions are taken. This includes ensuring that the vaccine is administered by a healthcare provider who is equipped to manage severe allergic reactions.51
- On Mar. 10, 2020, the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) invoked the 2005 Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness (PREP) Act, after declaring that the COVID-19 pandemic was a public health emergency. As a result, manufacturers of COVID-19 vaccines that have been developed to respond to the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic are considered public health emergency “countermeasures”. The PREP Act shields manufacturers and vaccine providers from liability and vaccine injury compensation claims will be processed by the Countermeasures Injury Compensation Program (CICP).52 53 54
Food & Drug Administration (FDA)
Centers for Disease Control (CDC)
CDC – Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19)
National Institutes of Health – NIH
Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19)
Vaccine Reaction Symptoms & Ingredients
Our Ask 8, If You Vaccinate webpage contains vaccine reaction symptoms and more.
Search for Vaccine Reactions
NVIC hosts MedAlerts, a powerful VAERS database search engine. MedAlerts examines symptoms, reactions, vaccines, dates, places, and more.
Reporting a Vaccine Reaction
Since 1982, the NVIC has operated a Vaccine Reaction Registry, which has served as a watchdog on VAERS. Reporting vaccine reactions to VAERS is the law. If your doctor will not report a reaction, you have the right to report a suspected vaccine reaction to VAERS.
IMPORTANT NOTE: NVIC encourages you to become fully informed about covid-19 and the covid-19 vaccine by reading all sections in the Table of Contents, which contain many links and resources such as the manufacturer product information inserts, and to speak with one or more trusted health care professionals before making a vaccination decision for yourself or your child. This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended as medical advice.
« Return to Vaccines & Diseases Table of Contents
Updated Apr. 26, 2021
1 Mandal A. The role of micro-RNA in SARS-CoV-2 infection and COVID-19. News-Medical Nov. 24, 2020.
2 U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Common Human Coronaviruses. In: COVID-19. Feb. 13, 2020.
3 U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Frequently Asked Questions about SARS. In: Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). May 3, 2005.
4 U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About MERS. In: Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS). Aug. 2, 2019.
5 Wu YC, Chen CS, Chan YS. The outbreak of COVID-19: An overview. J Chin Med Assoc March 2020; 83(3): 217-220.
6 Cucinotta D, Vanelli M. WHO Declares COVID-19 a Pandemic. Acta Biomed March 2020; 91(1): 157-160.
7 Fisher BL. Coronavirus (COVID-19) Pandemic: NVIC Special Report. National Vaccine Information Center (NVIC) February-June 2020.
8 Hewings-Maven Y. How do SARS and MERS compare with COVID-19? Medical News Today Apr. 10, 2020.
9 U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Frequently Asked Questions About SARS. In: Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). May 3, 2005.
10 U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About MERS. In: Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS). Aug. 2, 2019.
11 Wu YC, Chen CS, Chan YS. The outbreak of COVID-19: An overview. J Chin Med Assoc March 2020; 83(3): 217-220.
12 Cucinotta D, Vanelli M. WHO Declares COVID-19 a Pandemic. Acta Biomed March 2020; 91(1): 157-160.
13 Fisher BL. Coronavirus (COVID-19) Pandemic: NVIC Special Report. National Vaccine Information Center (NVIC). February-June 2020.
14 Hewings-Maven Y. How do SARS and MERS compare with COVID-19? Medical News Today Apr. 10, 2020.
15 Rivett L, Sridhar S, Sparkes D, et al. Screening of healthcare workers for SARS-CoV-2 highlights the role of asymptomatic carriage in COVID-19 transmission. ELife May 2020; 9:e58728.
16 U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Symptoms of COVID-19. In: COVID-19. Feb. 22, 2021.
17 WebMD. Complications Coronavirus Can Cause. Aug. 19, 2020.
18 Song P, Li W, Xie J et al. Cytokine storm induced by SARS-CoV-2. Clin Chim Acta October 2020; 509: 280-287.
19 Mayo Clinic. Multi-system inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C) and COVID-19. Mar. 24, 2021.
20 Bhaskar S, Sinha A, Banach M, et al. Cytokine Storm in COVID-19: Immunopathological Mechanisms, Clinical Considerations and Therapeutic Approaches: The REPROGRAM Consortium Position Paper. Front Immunol 2020; 11: 1648.
21 Garg S, Kim L, Whitaker M, et al. Hospitalization Rates and Characteristics of Patients Hospitalized with Laboratory-Confirmed Coronavirus Disease 2019 — COVID-NET, 14 States, March 1–30, 2020. MMWR 2020; 69(15): 458-464.
22 U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. People with Certain Medical Conditions. In: COVID-19. Mar. 29, 2021.
23 World Health Organization (WHO). COVID-19 Vaccines. Feb. 18, 2021.
24 U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine. Apr. 9, 2021.
25 U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Moderna COVID-19 Vaccine. Apr. 1, 2021.
26 U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine. In: Vaccines & Immunizations. Feb. 22, 2021.
27 U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Moderna COVID-19 Vaccine. In: Vaccines & Immunizations. Feb. 22, 2021.
28 Levine H. The 5 Stages of COVID-19 Vaccine Development: What You Need to Know About How a Clinical Trial Works. Johnson & Johnson Sept. 23, 2020.
29 Weintraub A. J&J COVID-19 vaccine candidate protects monkeys after single dose. Fierce Biotech July 30, 2020.
30 U.S. Food and Drug Administration. FDA Issues Emergency Use Authorization for Third COVID-19 Vaccine. Feb. 27, 2021.
31 U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Janssen Ad26.COV2.S vaccine for the prevention of COVID-19 Briefing Document. In: Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee – Event Materials. February 26, 2021.
32 Soucheray S. US halts J&J COVID vaccine after reports of blood clots. CIDRAP News Apr. 13, 2021.
33 Soucheray S. ACIP opts to lift pause on Johnson & Johnson vaccine. CIDRAP News Apr. 23, 2021.
34 Lee M. Pause on Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 Vaccine Lifted: CDC Vaccine Advisory Committee. The Epoch Times Apr. 23, 2021.
35 Knapp A, Rosenbaum L. Here’s What You Need to Know About Astra Zeneca’s COVID-19 Vaccine. Forbes Nov. 23 2020.
36 Robert-Guroff M. Replicating and non-replicating viral vectors for vaccine development. Curr Opin Biotechnol Dec. 2007;18(6):546-556.
37 U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Emergency Use Authorization for Vaccines Explained. Nov. 20, 2020.
38 Sky News Australia. WHO doesn’t have evidence vaccines prevent people transmitting virus to others. You Tube Dec. 28, 2020.
39 Kim S. Dr. Fauci on Mandatory COVID Vaccines: ‘Everything Will Be on the Table. Newsweek. Jan. 1, 2021.
40 Fisher BL. WHO and Fauci Warn COVID-19 Vaccines May not Prevent Infection and Disease Transmission. The Vaccine Reaction Jan. 4, 2021.
41 Johnson & Johnson. Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 Vaccine Authorized by U.S. FDA for Emergency Use – First Single Shot Vaccine in Fight Against Global Pandemic. Feb. 27, 2021.
42 U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine. Apr. 9, 2021.
43 U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Moderna COVID-19 Vaccine. Apr. 1, 2021.
44 Fisher BL. Miami Obstetrician Develops Bleeding Disorder, Dies After Receiving COVID-19 Vaccine. The Vaccine Reaction Jan. 11, 2021.
45 Stieber Z. Authorities Probe Rare Blood Disorder Among Some COVID-19 Vaccine Recipients. The Epoch Times. Feb. 11, 2021.
46 U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Briefing Document- Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine. In: Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee – Event Materials. Dec. 10. 2020.
47 Fisher BL. Healthy Mom, 39, in Utah Dies of Organ Failure Four Days After Moderna COVID Vaccination. The Vaccine Reaction. Mar. 15, 2021.
48 Attkisson S. Deaths of Elderly Who Recovered From COVID-19, but Died After Vaccine, Raise Questions. The Epoch Times Feb. 10, 2021.
49 Caceres M. Why Is Death After COVID-19 Vaccination Always Assumed to Be Coincidental? The Vaccine Reaction Mar. 1, 2021.
50 U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Selected Adverse Events Reported After COVID-19 Vaccination. In: COVID-19. Apr. 20, 2021.
51 U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Contraindications and Precautions. In: Interim Clinical Considerations for Use of COVID-19 Vaccines Currently Authorized in the United States. Mar. 5, 2021.
52 Congressional Research Service. The PREP Act and COVID-19: Limiting Liability for Medical Countermeasures. Mar. 19, 2021.
53 Garde D., Branswell H. 6 burning questions Congress could push Covid-19 vaccine makers to answer today. Stat News July 20, 2020.
54 Fisher BL. Parpia R. 2005 PREP Act and 1986 Act Shield Vaccine Manufacturers from Liability The Vaccine Reaction Aug. 10, 2020.