Here’s what you need to know

Below are some important questions and answers about COVID-19 vaccines that have been reviewed by Dr. Robert Citronberg, Advocate Aurora Health Executive Medical Director of Infectious Disease and Prevention. This article will be updated occasionally as news changes.

As news about the coming COVID-19 vaccines seems to change every day, it can be hard to keep all of that information straight.

Most importantly for now, a COVID-19 vaccine isn’t available yet, and the coronavirus continues to infect thousands of people per day in Illinois and Wisconsin. So for now, it’s important to wear a mask, avoid large gatherings, keep your distance from others, and wash your hands.

What is the COVID-19 vaccine?

A vaccine gives your body immunity to a disease without having to get the disease first. The first COVID-19 vaccines authorized for use will be messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccines. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “mRNA vaccines take advantage of the process that cells use to make proteins in order to trigger an immune response and build immunity to SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.”

Where will it come from?

There are several clinical trials in progress for COVID-19 vaccines including ones from AstraZeneca, Janssen, Moderna, Novavax, and Pfizer. The Pfizer vaccine is likely the first that will be authorized for FDA emergency use in the United States. Moderna’s is likely to quickly follow, which means people will be able to get vaccinated soon.

“It is right around the corner,” Dr. Citronberg says. “We expect that there may be vaccines available to some people even as soon as ten to 14 days.”

Is it safe?

I think it’s encouraging that none of the companies so far have reported any serious side effects. Every vaccine has side effects. In fact, minor side effects like low grade fever, chills or muscle aches means that your immune system is responding to the vaccine, which is exactly what you want,” explains Dr. Citronberg. “We haven’t seen all the safety data yet but we will likely get more details when the vaccine is approved for use.

According to the CDC, mRNA vaccines must follow “rigorous and effective safety standards.” The COVID-19 vaccines working towards authorization will meet these standards even though they were created rapidly.

“People have this perception that the safety process was cut short. I don’t think that’s the case. They were able to follow patients for at least two months after getting the vaccine and they determined that no serious side effects had occurred,” says Dr. Citronberg.

How will it work?

The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, which will likely be the first two released, both require two shots, 3-4 weeks apart depending on which vaccine is given. Both doses are necessary to be fully immunized.

Who will get the shots first?

It’s really important to prioritize for those people who are most likely to get infected,” explains Dr. Citronberg. “Right now, that’s health care workers on the front lines and the staff and residents of long-term care facilities.”

However, this doesn’t mean others won’t be able to get vaccinated as well. Dr. Citronberg says people will need to practice patience. 

“It will take several months with distribution. By next spring, we might even have 4, 5, or 6 different vaccines to choose from,” he says. “It probably won’t be until May or June of next year when everyone in this country who wants a vaccine will be able to get one.”

What can you do if you can’t get a vaccine right away?

It’s important to continue to do what science shows works in reducing the spread of COVID-19: social distance, avoid large gatherings, wash your hands, and wear a mask.  Even if you do receive a vaccine, we strongly recommend you continue all of these safety measures.

When will things return to “normal”?

“We generally look at the number of about 70% for herd immunity, which is a combination of people who have had the disease and also to get the vaccine,” Dr. Citroberg says. “Hopefully by about next summer we’ll achieve herd immunity. I think the second half of next year looks very promising for starting to be able to relax some of the restrictions that we have in place right now and for life to begin looking like normal again.”

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