As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact our lives and our community, we look forward to learning more about the COVID-19 vaccines that will soon be available.
Getting vaccinated against COVID-19 will be one of the best ways to protect yourself and others around you.
Below are the answers to frequently asked questions about COVID-19 vaccines. This information will continue to be updated as MCW receives new information from the CDC, DHS and other infectious disease experts.
COVID-19 Vaccine Journey: Leonard E. Egede, MD, MS
Video, slide deck available from MCW community briefings on COVID-19 vaccines
MCW recently hosted two virtual community briefings on the COVID-19 vaccine to provide up-to-date information on vaccine safety, distribution planning, what you can expect from the vaccine and community protection. The webinars featured Dr. John Raymond and Dr. Laura Cassidy and included a Q&A for the community.
What we know about the COVID-19 vaccine today
Getting the vaccine is strongly encouraged for most individuals. The COVID-19 vaccines are being made available in phases to assure the highest benefit to the community. Phase 1A will focus primarily on frontline health care workers, residents and workers at long term care facilities and other emergency responders at high risk for infection by coronavirus. This will safeguard the healthcare system and preserve the ability to provide care for those who need it. This initial phase will expand to include other essential workers and people at very high risk for hospitalization or death from COVID-19. It is anticipated that supplies of the vaccine(s) could be sufficient to provide to the general population in the late Spring or early Summer of 2021.
The Pfizer vaccine was reviewed and approved for emergency use authorization (EUA) on Dec. 11, 2020, and the Moderna vaccine was approved for EUA on Dec. 18, 2020. Two additional vaccines, one from AstraZeneca and one from Johnson & Johnson, are anticipated to be reviewed for EUA in early 2021.
When safety and quality criteria are met, Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) allows for the use of medical products in an emergency to diagnose, treat, or prevent serious or life-threatening diseases. The EUA process conducted by the FDA is extremely rigorous to ensure safety standards.
The risk of any vaccine causing serious harm, or death, is extremely small but possible. A vaccine, like any medicine, could cause serious problem, such as a severe allergic reaction. The COVID-19 vaccines are new, and some effects may not yet be known. Historically, long-term side effects from vaccines have been rare. People with a history of severe allergic reactions (to medications or food) or anaphylaxis should consult with their health care provider prior to receiving COVID-19 vaccination.
The devastating impact of COVID-19 has resulted in hundreds of thousands of deaths in the United States, to date. These vaccines offer a safe and effective way to slow and potentially stop the toll of this public health crisis. The vaccines work with your immune system so that your body will be ready to fight the virus if you are exposed. It is important for each person to carefully weigh all available information when making the best-informed choice about receiving the vaccine.
Reported responses to the COVID-19 vaccines are similar to other vaccines like the flu shot, and may include soreness, redness and swelling at the site of the injection; and fatigue, nausea, muscle pain, chills, joint pain and headache. These are all signs that your immune system is working. These minor symptoms develop within one to two days from the shots and last generally one day. The CDC indicates the benefits of the vaccine outweigh the risks of getting ill from COVID-19. If you experience other symptoms after receiving the vaccine, please consult your health care provider and follow their recommendations for self-isolation and care.
In Phase 3 trials, the Pfizer vaccine showed a 95% efficacy rate seven days after the second dose. The vaccine was 94% effective in adults >65 years old. The Moderna vaccine showed a 94% efficacy rate 14 days after the second dose. These results were consistent across gender, age, race and ethnicity. The length of immunity following vaccination is not yet known for COVID-19. Given the novel nature of this virus and vaccine development, long-term data is not yet available to guide future vaccine protocols.
Unfortunately, you won't be able to tell if you are protected. Even after getting vaccinated you need to continue to limit trips outside of your home, practice physical distancing and wearing face coverings.
The results of the clinical data available are encouraging. They indicate that these vaccines provide a very high level of protection against COVID-19 or, at the very least, make it so that a person who becomes infected has a milder course of disease without as many complications. Widespread vaccination for COVID-19 means that the virus cannot infect as many people, which results in fewer people spreading the virus throughout our communities. This is referred to as “community protection."
We don’t know yet, but immunity is expected to be strong for months. Researchers will not know how long immunity lasts until they are able to follow people who receive the vaccine over longer periods of time. This will also help determine whether further booster doses are required.
You should not test positive for COVID-19 due to being vaccinated but will test positive for the antibodies that fight the virus.
Yes. According to the CDC website, there is not enough information currently available to say if or for how long after infection someone is protected from getting COVID-19 again; this is called natural immunity. Early evidence suggests natural immunity from COVID-19 may not last very long, but more studies are needed to better understand this.
No, the COVID-19 vaccines are mRNA vaccines and do not contain virus or virus particles. Thus, it is impossible to get COVID-19 from the vaccine. You will not be contagious or shed live virus.
The COVID-19 vaccine has not yet been approved for children under the age of 16. People who are pregnant or breastfeeding or those with severe allergies to vaccines should consult their health care provider before taking the vaccine.
Those who are pregnant or those trying to become pregnant and those who are breastfeeding were not included in vaccine trials and the risk to the baby is unknown. Discussing the risks and benefits of the vaccine should be considered with your health care provider.
All of the COVID-19 vaccines are designed to teach your immune system how to fight off the virus. Their differences include their doses; that they are not interchangeable (if you receive the Pfizer vaccine for your first dose, you must receive the Pfizer vaccine for your second dose); and that they require different storage. For example, the Pfizer vaccine needs to be kept in ultra-cold storage.
The FDA has created an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine Fact Sheet that contains information to help the public understand the risks and benefits of this specific vaccine.
No. The COVID-19 vaccines do not contain virus or virus particles. Thus, it is impossible to get COVID-19 from the vaccine. You will not be contagious or shed live virus. Individuals should monitor for symptoms and follow appropriate guidance from their primary care provider.
At this time, we are anticipating that this vaccine will be given only using two shots (21 or 28 days from each other), but future booster shots might be needed.
We know that the COVID-19 vaccines protect a person from getting moderately to severely ill with COVID-19. A small number of people may get COVID-19 infection with mild symptoms. However, we don’t know yet if the vaccine produces what is called sterile immunity (not referring to human reproduction) that prevents those who have been vaccinated from infecting others or if people who have received the vaccine can still spread the virus through asymptomatic (not experiencing symptoms) transmission.
You will be protected from severe forms of COVID-19, with less chance of dying from the virus. There is not enough information currently available to say if or for how long after infection someone is protected from COVID-19 infection. Early evidence suggests natural immunity from COVID-19 may not last very long, but more studies are needed to better understand this. We know COVID-19 has caused very serious illness and death for many people. If you get COVID-19, you also risk giving it to loved ones who may get very sick. Getting a COVID-19 vaccine is a safer choice.
Herd immunity (or community immunity) is a term to describe the situation when most individuals have protection from the virus so that there are not enough susceptible people remaining in a community for the virus to spread. As a result, everyone within the community is protected, even if a small number of people do not have any protection themselves. The percentage of people who need to have protection in order to achieve herd immunity varies by disease. At this time, experts estimate that at least 75% of people within a community will need to have developed immunity to begin controlling the COVID-19 pandemic.
Yes, people who got a flu shot can and should receive the vaccine when it becomes available. We encourage you to get your flu shot, if you have not already done so. A flu shot provides many benefits, including keeping you from getting sick with the flu and reducing the severity of your illness if you do get the flu.
How can I learn more?
Carefully review all materials provided to you when you are notified that you are eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine BEFORE you schedule your vaccination. You can also visit the following online resources:
What we know about COVID-19 vaccine distribution – general
The CDC’s guidelines for prioritizing the first shipment of vaccines does not include the general population. The vaccine distribution is staged by the CDC and the Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) and will be available in phases and these phases may overlap:
- Phase 1a: Health care workers and nursing home residents (long-term care residents) who may directly or indirectly be exposed to COVID-19.
- Phase 1b: Police and fire personnel and adults ages 65 and over; future priority populations as yet to be finalized.
- Phases 2 and 3: Anyone who did not receive the vaccine in phases 1a or 1b, other critical populations, general public
Vaccine availability is a fast-evolving and complex situation. Although we do not know when each of these phases of distribution will occur, we expect that the vaccines will be widely available to the public several months into 2021.
For more information on the planning and distribution process identified by DHS, view the COVID-19 vaccination plan (PDF) DHS submitted to the CDC. The latest information on phase plans and vaccines allocated and administered in Wisconsin can be found on the DHS website.
There may be a limited supply of COVID-19 vaccines before the end of 2020, but supply is expected to increase gradually throughout the first half of 2021. The goal is for everyone to be able to easily get a COVID-19 vaccine as soon as quantities become available.
Because of limited supply and significant distribution needs across the country, it is unlikely individuals will be given a choice of COVID-19 vaccine.
At this time, we expect that there will be no cost to individuals to receive the vaccine. However, we are awaiting more details.
Antibody: A protein found in the blood that is produced in response to foreign substances (e.g. bacteria or viruses) invading the body. Antibodies protect the body from disease by binding to these organisms and destroying them.
Bacteria: Single-celled organisms that live in and around us with a distinct structure from other microbes. Bacteria can be helpful, but can also cause illnesses such as strep throat, ear infections, and pneumonia.
Germs: Living organisms, like bacteria, fungi, or viruses, which can cause infections or disease.
Herd Immunity: When a large percentage of the population becomes immune to a disease through vaccination and/ or recovery from infection. If enough people are immune, it limits spread and protects the entire community.
Immunity: Protection from an infectious disease. If you are immune to a disease, you can be exposed to it without becoming infected.
Immunization: A process by which a person becomes protected against a disease through vaccination. This term is often used interchangeably with vaccination or inoculation.
Outbreak: More cases of a disease at a specific time or place than expected. If the disease is new, rare, or has serious public health implications, an outbreak may be declared with as few as one or two cases.
Vaccination: The act of introducing a vaccine into the body to produce immunity to a specific disease.
Vaccine: A product that stimulates a person’s immune system to produce immunity to a specific disease, protecting the person from that disease. Vaccines are usually administered through needle injections but can also be administered by mouth or sprayed into the nose.
Virus: A tiny organism that multiplies within cells and causes disease such as chickenpox, measles, mumps, rubella, pertussis and hepatitis. Viruses are not affected by antibiotics, the drugs used to kill bacteria.
Frequently Asked Questions
Vaccines contain the virus or bacteria (or parts of virus or bacteria) that cause disease. For example, measles vaccine contains measles virus. The virus in the measles vaccine is weakened to the point that it doesn’t cause disease. Some vaccines have a killed version of the germ, such as the vaccine against Hepatitis A. Others have only a piece of the germ, such as with the meningococcal vaccine. All of these vaccines are strong enough to make the immune system produce antibodies that lead to immunity. In other words, a vaccine is a safer substitute for a person’s first exposure to a disease. The person gets protection without having to get sick. Through vaccination, people can develop immunity without suffering from the actual diseases that vaccines prevent.
Thanks to vaccines, some diseases are almost gone from the U.S. But experts still recommend that we immunize our children, ourselves as adults, and the elderly. It’s true, some diseases (like polio and diphtheria) are becoming very rare in the U.S. Of course, they are becoming rare largely because we have been vaccinating against them.
It’s much like bailing out a boat with a slow leak. When we started bailing, the boat was filled with water. But we have been bailing fast and hard, and now it is almost dry. We could say, “Good. The boat is dry now, so we can throw away the bucket and relax.” But the leak hasn’t stopped. Before long we’d notice a little water seeping in, and soon it might be back up to the same level as when we started.
Unless we can “stop the leak” (eliminate the disease), it is important to keep immunizing. Even if there are only a few cases of disease today, if we take away the protection given by vaccination, more and more people will become infected and will spread disease to others. Soon we will undo the progress we have made over the years.
We don’t vaccinate just to protect our children. We also vaccinate to protect our grandchildren and their grandchildren. With one disease, smallpox, we “stopped the leak” in the boat by eradicating the disease. Our children don’t have to get smallpox shots anymore because the disease no longer exists. Smallpox is now only a memory, and if we keep vaccinating against other diseases, the same will someday be true for them too. Vaccinations are one of the best ways to put an end to the serious effects of certain diseases.
Diseases that are almost unknown would stage a comeback. Before long we would see epidemics of diseases that are nearly under control today. More children would get sick and more would die.
The United States has the safest, most effective vaccine supply in its history. The nation’s longstanding vaccine safety system ensures that vaccines are as safe as possible. As new information and science become available, the system is updated and improved.
As part of these vaccine safety efforts, scientists ensure the safety of vaccines by conducting different types of studies:
- Clinical trials are done before a vaccine is made available. Vaccine manufacturers conduct these studies as part of the development, testing, and approval process. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) uses the information from clinical trials to decide if a vaccine is safe, effective, and ready to be licensed for use.
- Post-licensure safety studies are conducted after a vaccine is approved and in use. These studies are part of continuous vaccine safety monitoring and often look at populations that might be underrepresented in clinical trials. Importantly, these studies can look for rare adverse events.
The United States’ long-standing vaccine safety program closely and constantly monitors the safety of vaccines.
A critical part of the program, CDC’s Immunization Safety Office identifies possible vaccine side effects and conducts studies to determine whether health problems are caused by vaccines.
Data show that the current U.S. vaccine supply is the safest in history.
Immunity to a disease is achieved through the presence of antibodies to that disease in a person’s system. Antibodies are proteins produced by the body to neutralize or destroy toxins or disease-causing organisms. Antibodies are disease-specific. For example, measles antibody will protect a person who is exposed to measles but will have no effect if he or she is exposed to mumps.
Active immunity results when exposure to a disease organism triggers the immune system to produce antibodies to that disease. Exposure to the disease organism can occur through infection with the actual disease (resulting in natural immunity), or introduction of a killed or weakened form of the disease organism through vaccination (vaccine-induced immunity). Either way, if an immune person comes into contact with that disease in the future, their immune system will recognize it and immediately produce the antibodies needed to fight it.
Active immunity is long-lasting, and sometimes lifelong.
Passive immunity is provided when a person is given antibodies to a disease rather than producing them through his or her own immune system.
A newborn baby acquires passive immunity from its mother with antibodies that cross the placenta. A person can also get passive immunity through antibody-containing blood products such as immune globulin, which may be given when immediate protection from a specific disease is needed. This is the major advantage to passive immunity; protection is immediate, whereas active immunity takes time (usually several weeks) to develop.
However, passive immunity lasts only for a few weeks or months. Only active immunity is long-lasting.
In the Media
Wisconsin economy still faces COVID-19 threat as we wait on a vaccine
November 18, 2020 | TMJ 4
Wisconsin sets daily high in COVID-19 deaths, medical experts confident in vaccine development
November 17, 2020 | WTMJ 620
Wisconsin prepares plan for COVID-19 vaccines
November 17, 2020 | Racine County Eye
Vaccines could usher in improved business, social levels by spring, says Dr. Raymond
November 17, 2020 | Milwaukee Business Journal
November 13, 2020 | WTMJ-AM
Millions of COVID-19 vaccine doses may be ready this year
November 13, 2020 | Fox 6 News
November 9, 2020 | CBS 58 News