COVID-19 Vaccines Frequently Asked Questions

Information about the vaccine changes rapidly at the state and federal levels. Please check back frequently for updated information.

Listed below are answers to common questions individuals may have about the vaccine, the vaccination process and related topics. Visit uwhealth.org/vaccine for more information about eligibility and to schedule an appointment.

Boosters

What is the latest with the approval of boosters and who is confirmed as eligible to receive them?

On Thursday, Sept. 23, 2021, the CDC approved COVID-19 vaccine booster recommendations for eligible individuals who received a Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine (six months or more ago). These recommendations for boosters include:

  • People 65 years and older and residents in long-term care settings should receive a booster shot.
  • People aged 50–64 years with underlying medical conditions should receive a booster shot.
  • People aged 18–49 years with underlying medical conditions may receive a booster shot, based on their individual benefits and risks.
  • People aged 18-64 years who are at increased risk for COVID-19 exposure and transmission because of occupational or institutional setting may receive a booster shot, based on their individual benefits and risks.
Can I schedule a booster now?

Patients who meet the eligibility criteria can now schedule a booster appointment at uwhealth.org/vaccine or via MyChart. Patients will be asked to attest to eligibility at the time of scheduling. Boosters have not been authorized for those who have received Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines.

What about those who received Moderna or Johnson & Johnson vaccine?

So far, only the Pfizer vaccine has received approval to be given as a booster. We expect Moderna boosters to be reviewed in the coming weeks. Johnson & Johnson has announced it is collecting data on the effectiveness of a booster and plans to submit its data for review soon. 

Can the vaccines be mixed? For example, if I received Johnson & Johnson, can I now receive the Pfizer booster?

No. The Pfizer booster recommendation does not include any provisions for patients who received other types of vaccine. Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccine boosters are expected to be reviewed later. 

I see that UW Health is scheduling "third dose" of COVID-19 vaccine for certain individuals. What’s the difference between a third dose and a booster shot?

Third doses are for immunosuppressed patients who need to receive more vaccine to achieve the same levels of immunity as healthy individuals. Third doses are provided to immunosuppressed people (who previously received a Pfizer or Moderna vaccine) 28 days after they receive their second dose.

Boosters are for the general population to address waning immunity. Over time, it is common for all vaccine recipients’ immune response to lose some strength. Boosters are given later to “remind” the immune system to fight the illness.

COVID-19 Vaccine Availability

Can I get the vaccine?

Everyone 12 and older is eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. For those 12 years of age and older, you are eligible to receive only the Pfizer vaccine at this time To schedule your first COVID-19 vaccine appointment, you can use this online form. 

Online is the fastest and most up-to-date way to schedule, but if you are having difficulties please call (608) 720-5295. Please note, there may be long wait times. We recommend accessing the online scheduling form from a computer instead of a mobile device in order to ensure the best usability experience. 

Those eligible to receive the vaccine can access it through a variety of options, including community-based clinics, health care providers, Local and Tribal Health Departments, and pharmacies. Visit the Wisconsin COVID-19 vaccine options page or call the toll free vaccine hotline at 1-844-684-1064 to learn more. 

Should I get a third dose or a booster of COVID-19 vaccine?

The FDA and CDC have authorized providing a third dose of the Pfizer (12 and up) or Moderna (18 and up) COVID-19 vaccines for people whose immune systems are compromised moderately or severely. Currently, CDC is recommending that moderately to severely immunocompromised people receive an additional dose. This includes people who have:

  • Recently received or are currently receiving cancer treatment for tumors or cancers of the blood
  • Received an organ transplant and are taking medicine to suppress the immune system
  • Received a stem cell transplant within the last 2 years or are taking medicine to suppress the immune system
  • Moderate or severe primary immunodeficiency (such as DiGeorge syndrome, Wiskott-Aldrich syndrome)
  • Advanced or untreated HIV infection
  • Active treatment with high-dose corticosteroids or other drugs that may suppress your immune response

If you are eligible for a third dose you can schedule your appointment for a third dose of COVID-19 vaccine using this online form. No provider note or other proof of eligibility is required.

Please Note: Eligible patients need to wait for a minimum of 28 days after their second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine before receiving the third dose.

If you are unsure whether you should receive a third dose, please talk to your healthcare provider about whether you are eligible.

At this time, patients who received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine are not eligible for an additional dose.

The FDA and CDC have authorized vaccine boosters for eligible individuals who received a Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine (six months or more ago). These recommendations for boosters include: 

  • People 65 years and older and residents in long-term care settings should receive a booster shot. 
  • People aged 50–64 years with underlying medical conditions should receive a booster shot. 
  • People aged 18–49 years with underlying medical conditions may receive a booster shot, based on their individual benefits and risks. 
  • People aged 18-64 years who are at increased risk for COVID-19 exposure and transmission because of occupational or institutional setting may receive a booster shot, based on their individual benefits and risks. 
How will I be notified about the vaccine if I am a UW Health patient?

If you are eligible you do not need to wait for a notification, you can schedule your first COVID-19 vaccine appointment using this online form. 

Can I get updates by calling my healthcare provider?

We kindly ask that you do not call your healthcare provider or clinic for information about COVID-19 vaccines at this time. This helps reserve our staffed phone lines for patients calling who are experiencing active symptoms or have urgent healthcare needs.

When will children be able to get vaccinated?

Children 12 years of age and older are eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. Clinical trial testing is underway but it is unclear when children under the age of 12 will be able to get vaccinated. We will communicate with patients and the community when we have updates about the availability of vaccines for children

Will the vaccine protect against any new strains of the virus? How is the vaccine adjusted for changes in the virus? Are existing vaccines less effective on the new strains?

Viral mutations are common and there will be ongoing study needed to monitor the effectiveness of the current vaccines against new strains. The current vaccines appear to be effective against the newly identified strains. Future actions or changes will be determined based on ongoing monitoring and research.

What can I do to stay healthy until the vaccine is available?

It is critical that everyone takes steps to stay healthy and prevent the spread of COVID-19. Local hospitals are already strained caring for significant numbers of COVID-19 patients. To help prevent the spread and reduce the pressure on hospitals:

  • Do not gather in the presence of those outside your immediate household. If you must, wear a mask and stay at least six feet apart.
  • Wear a mask when in public, even in outdoor locations.
  • Wash your hands frequently for at least 20 seconds, scrubbing thoroughly and rinsing completely.
  • If you have symptoms, stay home.
Where can I learn more about vaccines?

Getting Vaccinated

Does UW Health and my Primary Care Provider advise that I get vaccinated for COVID-19?

UW Health providers and experts agree that getting a COVID-19 vaccine may help keep you from getting seriously ill even if you do get COVID-19. Getting vaccinated not only protects you, it protects the people around you, particularly people at risk for severe illness from COVID-19.

How many doses of the COVID-19 vaccine will be needed?

If you get the Pfizer-BioNtech vaccine you will need two doses and you should receive the second dose no earlier than 21 days. If you got the Pfizer vaccine it may also be recommended that you get a vaccine booster (see below for more information). The Moderna vaccine also requires two doses, and you should receive the second dose no earlier than 28 days after your first dose. The Janssen (Johnson & Johnson) vaccine is a one dose vaccine.  

CDC recommends that people whose immune systems are compromised moderately to severely should receive a third dose of the Pfizer-BioNtech and Moderna vaccines after the initial 2 doses. Eligible patients need to wait a minimum of 28 days from their second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine before receiving the third dose. 

People should talk to their healthcare provider about their medical condition, and whether getting an additional dose is appropriate for them. 

The FDA and CDC have authorized vaccine boosters for eligible individuals who received a Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine (six months or more ago). These recommendations for boosters include: 

  • People 65 years and older and residents in long-term care settings should receive a booster shot. 
  • People aged 50–64 years with underlying medical conditions should receive a booster shot. 
  • People aged 18–49 years with underlying medical conditions may receive a booster shot, based on their individual benefits and risks. 
  • People aged 18-64 years who are at increased risk for COVID-19 exposure and transmission because of occupational or institutional setting may receive a booster shot, based on their individual benefits and risks. 
How will I know when and how to schedule my second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine if I received Pfizer-BioNtech or Moderna?

You should receive the second dose of the Pfizer-BioNtechCOVID-19 vaccine no earlier than 21 days and Moderna no earlier than 28 days after your first dose. On the day the first dose is given, UW Health patients will receive a scheduling invitation to schedule the second dose. At that time, schedule your second dose.

Can I get my second dose with UW Health if I got my first COVID-19 vaccine dose elsewhere?

If you received your first dose somewhere outside of UW Health and your first dose was Pfizer, you can schedule a second dose of the Pfizer vaccine with UW Health by calling  (608) 720-5055. At this time we only have a supply of the Pfizer vaccine.

Are the COVID-19 Vaccines free? How much will they cost?

Patients will not be charged for the COVID-19 vaccine. However, the patient’s insurance company will be charged a vaccine administration fee. Insurance companies are required to pay 100% without any cost-share/copay to the patient. For patients without insurance, there is no charge.

Can I choose which brand of the vaccine I receive?

At this time, UW Health is unable to request specific vaccines so you will not have a choice of which vaccine you receiveIf you receive a vaccine that requires two doses, once you get the first dose, you will have to receive the same brand for the second dose. 

Is one brand of the vaccine better than the others?

The FDA has found all three vaccines to be highly effective at preventing hospitalizations and deaths from COVID-19. Experts say, you should get whichever vaccine is available.

I may be allergic to an ingredient in the COVID-19 vaccine, should I still schedule my vaccine when I am eligible?

The SARS-CoV-2 vaccine includes the ingredients Polyethylene glycol, Polysorbate, and Polyoxyl 35 castor oil. If you are allergic to one of these ingredients, you should contact your healthcare provider prior to scheduling a vaccination.

If I have had an allergic reaction to other types of vaccines or injectable medication, should I get the COVID-19 vaccine?

If you have had an immediate allergic reaction - even if it was not severe - to a vaccine or injectable therapy for another disease, ask your healthcare provider if you should get a COVID-19 vaccine. Your provider will help you decide if it is safe for you to get vaccinated.

Should I get the COVID-19 vaccine if I get allergic reactions to food, bee stings, and/or latex?

If you have a history of severe allergic reaction to food, bee stings (or other insects) or latex in which you carry an Epi Pen to treat, you can receive your vaccine at one of our clinic sites. When scheduling, choose a clinic location and not the John Wall drive through site so that we can monitor you closely.

If you have a history of an allergic reaction to food, bee stings (or other insects) or latex that is not anaphylaxis, and therefore do not use an Epi Pen to treat your reaction, there is no restriction to receiving your vaccine. We do recommend you receive your vaccine at one of our clinic sites.

If I have already had COVID-19 and recovered, do I still need to get vaccinated? How long after receiving a positive COVID-19 diagnosis should I wait to receive the COVID-19 vaccination?

There is not enough information to say if or for how long after infection someone is protected from getting COVID-19 again, and some people have been infected more than once, especially if their initial infection was mild. Therefore, we do advise vaccination even if you have previously been diagnosed with COVID-19.

If you are currently infected with COVID-19 it is recommended that you wait until you have recovered (no symptoms) from your illness and are no longer required to isolate (10 days since symptom began). After that time period you may receive your vaccination.

I am due to receive other immunizations/vaccinations. Is there a time period I need to wait after getting the COVID-19 vaccination before getting other immunizations/vaccinations?

COVID-19 vaccines and other vaccines can be administered without regard to timing. So COVID-19 vaccines and other vaccines can be given on the same day

Can I still receive my vaccine if I have a known close contact COVID-19 exposure?

It is recommended you wait the 10-day quarantine period before receiving your vaccine to determine that you do not become ill from COVID-19.  This will make it easier to distinguish any side effects you may have after receiving your vaccine from a COVID-19 infection (which would require you to be tested). Note, close contact is when someone is within 6 feet an infected person for a cumulative total of 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period, starting from 2 days before illness onset until the time the patient is done with isolation, and where both persons were unmasked or the individual exposed was not wearing a barrier mask. 

I have read that taking acetaminophen/ibuprofen after I receive my vaccination should be avoided as it depresses the immune response to the vaccine. Is this accurate and should I avoid these medications after vaccination?

There is no known risk to taking acetaminophen or anti-inflammatories in conjunction with a vaccine. In general, it is recommended to avoid pre-medicating with acetaminophen/ibuprofen prior to being vaccinated, however post-administration medicine is reasonable if necessary.

I have a history of fainting with injections, what should I do when I schedule my vaccine?

Please schedule your vaccine at one of our clinic locations and not at the John Wall drive through site so that we can monitor you more closely.

I received the monoclonal antibodies or convalescent plasma as part of COVID-19 treatment. How long should I wait to receive the vaccination?

You should schedule your COVID-19 vaccine at least 90 days after your treatment is complete.

If I participated in the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine trial, should I also receive the vaccine since there is a chance that I received a placebo?

When the vaccine is available to you, you are eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine if you wish to do so. Trial participants should notify their study contacts if they choose to receive the vaccine.

What if I have a fever or other symptoms of an infection on the day of my COVID-19 vaccination appointment?

Cancel your COVID-19 vaccination and wait until you are healthy to receive the vaccine. If you have symptoms of COVID-19, call your healthcare provider.

Can getting the COVID-19 vaccine lead to Bell’s palsy?

Cases of Bell’s palsy were reported in participants in the mRNA COVID-19 vaccine clinical trials. However, the number of incidents is no greater than the amount of people who experience Bell's palsy in the general population. The Federal Drug Administration (FDA) and the CDC agree there is no reason to be alarmed by the handful of cases. Also, persons who have previously had Bell’s Palsy may receive a COVID-19 vaccine.

Post-Vaccination and Side Effects

What are the most common side effects of the COVID-19 vaccines?

Mild or moderate side effects include tiredness, nausea, muscle pain, chills, joint pain and headache. Adverse events are more common after the second dose. These side effects are a sign that your immune system is doing exactly what it is supposed to do – building up protection to the disease.

What are the risks from the COVID-19 vaccines?

The risk of any vaccine causing serious harm, or death, is extremely small but possible. A vaccine, like any medicine, could cause a severe problem, such as a severe allergic reaction. The COVID-19 vaccines are new, and some effects may not yet be known.

What should I do if I have a severe reaction from the COVID-19 vaccine?

We routinely give vaccines in controlled settings and always have medications and equipment available for managing allergic reactions at each vaccination site. We may call 9-1-1 in the case of a severe reaction.

Allergic response usually occurs within 4 hours of receiving an injection and may include breathing difficulty, swelling of your tongue/lips, itching, hives and redness. If you experience any of these symptoms or you were treated with an injection of Epinephrine, contact your healthcare provider.

If I test positive for COVID-19 after receiving my first vaccine, when can I receive my second vaccine? (Moderna/Pfizer)

If you test positive for COVID-19 after your first dose of the vaccine and before your second dose and you still have COVID-19 symptoms, you will need to reschedule your second dose for when you are completely recovered. Completely recovered means you have no active symptoms from your illness and are no longer required to isolate (10 days since symptoms began).  After that time period you may receive your vaccination.

Once vaccinated, is it possible for someone to still be a carrier?

This is unclear, although the likelihood of carrying the disease to others is significantly reduced if a person is not actively infected.

How long after receiving the vaccine will I develop immunity and how long is the COVID-19 vaccine effective? Can I expect any amount of protection between receiving the first dose and the second dose?

After a vaccination, the body doesn’t build an immune response instantly – it takes weeks. With COVID-19 vaccines, studies show that all three vaccines (Pfizer-BioNtech,  Moderna and Johnson & Johnson) only achieve full immunity four to six weeks after starting. It is strongly recommended that you complete both doses if you receive Pfizer-BioNtech or Moderna.  

We will not know how long immunity lasts until those that receive the vaccine are followed over longer periods of time. This will also help determine if further booster doses will be needed. Studies to further explore this and the length of immunity are ongoing.   

Will those who are vaccinated test positive for COVID following vaccination? Can I get COVID-19 from the vaccines?

You will not test positive for COVID but may test positive for the antibodies. The vaccines cannot give someone COVID-19.

What is herd immunity? What percentage of the population needs to get vaccinated to have herd immunity to COVID-19?

Herd immunity (or community immunity) is a term to describe when enough individuals have protection – either from previous infection or vaccination – that there are so few at risk people in a community that it is unlikely a virus or bacteria can continue to spread widely and infect others. As a result, everyone within the community is protected, even if some people do not have any protection themselves. The percentage of people who need to have protection to reach herd immunity varies by disease. At this time, experts do not know what percentage of people would need to get vaccinated to achieve herd immunity for COVID-19, but current estimates are that at least 75% of people within a community will need to have immunity to begin controlling the pandemic.

What are the long-term effects of the vaccine?

A great deal remains unknown about the long-term effects of the vaccine, including how long it provides immunity. Patients in vaccine studies will continue to be monitored by the FDA and the CDC for 24 months to allow researchers to learn more about these impacts. If a safety issue is detected, immediate action will take place to determine if the issue is related to the COVID-19 vaccine and determine the best course of action.

My mother got vaccinated, is it now safe for me to visit?

There are many things to consider before making a decision and it is best to be cautious. Elderly people with weakened immune systems may not respond as well to COVID-19 vaccines. Also, even if your Mom has been vaccinated, she could still become mildly infected. If you do decide to visit, be sure that it has been two weeks since the second dose of Pfizer-BioNtech or Moderna, or her single dose of Johnson & Johnson (Janssen). And continue to take safety precautions by wearing a mask, washing hands and staying at least 6 feet away.

Should I still wear a mask and practice social distancing if I have received two doses of the vaccine? Can I start planning non-essential travel?

While experts learn more about how COVID-19 vaccines protect those that receive it and our community, it is important for everyone to continue using all the tools available to help stop this pandemic, like covering your mouth and nose with a mask, frequent hand washing and staying at least 6 feet away from others. Together, COVID-19 vaccination and following the CDC’s recommendations for how to protect yourself and others will offer the best protection from getting and spreading SARs-CoV2 (the virus that causes COVID-19). Experts need to understand more about the protection that COVID-19 vaccines provide before deciding to change infection control recommendations. Other factors, including how many people get vaccinated and how the virus is spreading in communities will also affect this decision.

What is the CDC v-safe vaccination checker and how can I participate?

V-safe is a CDC smartphone-based tool that uses text messaging and web surveys to provide personalized health check-ins after you receive a COVID-19 vaccination. Through v-safe, you can quickly tell CDC if you have any side effects after getting the COVID-19 vaccine. Once you get a COVID-19 vaccine, you can enroll in v-safe using your smartphone. Information to register can be found on the vaccination record card you receive during your vaccination or on the CDC v-safe information sheet.

Patients with Specific Health Concerns

Can those who are pregnant, breastfeeding or trying to become pregnant get the vaccine?

Multiple national pregnancy experts, including UW Health specialists, strongly recommend that pregnant and breastfeeding people get a COVID-19 vaccine. People thinking about or trying to get pregnant should also get a COVID-19 vaccine, and do not need to delay pregnancy after getting a COVID-19 vaccine.

Studies show that the COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective for people who are pregnant and breastfeeding.

The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention both agree that the benefits of being vaccinated outweigh theoretical risk for these patients. Read more

If I have allergies not related to vaccines, should I get vaccinated?

CDC recommends that people with a history of severe allergic reactions not related to vaccines or injectable medications - such as food, pet, venom, environmental, or latex allergies - get vaccinated. People with a history of allergies to oral medications or a family history of severe allergic reactions may also get vaccinated.

If you have had a serious reaction to other vaccines or injections, you should talk to your provider about the risks of taking the COVID-19 vaccine and if it is right for you.

Should I receive the COVID-19 vaccine if I have a history of allergic rhinitis (chronic runny nose) or asthma?

These conditions do not have any restrictions to scheduling a vaccine.

I am scheduled for surgery. Is it safe for me to get the vaccine prior to my surgery?

The COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective, and vaccination should not generally delay your surgery.  Be sure to discuss your vaccination plans with your surgeon.

Is it safe for a cancer patient undergoing treatment to get the vaccine?

The situation for every person who has (or has had) cancer is different, so it is best to discuss the risks and benefits of getting the COVID-19 vaccine with your cancer doctor.

Click here for more COVID-19 vaccine information for cancer patients and survivors.

For information relevant to UW Carbone Cancer patient, please see our Precautions for Cancer Patients page.

I am immunocompromised or on a medicine that affects my immune system, can I get vaccinated?

You may schedule your appointment to be vaccinated. If you are receiving active chemotherapy or radiation, please talk to your oncologist about the timing of your vaccine. If you are uncertain about how the vaccine will affect you, please call your healthcare provider to discuss.

Is it okay for me to get the COVID-19 vaccine if I have a bleeding disorder or am on a blood thinning medication?

You may schedule your vaccine. You may experience increased bleeding, swelling or bruising at the site of injection.

Should people with multiple sclerosis (MS) get the COVID-19 vaccine?

Yes, evidence suggests that all people with MS, including those on any class of disease-modifying treatment, can and should be vaccinated against COVID-19. Patients on the medication Ocrevus should consult with their physician for more information.

Is it safe for transplant recipients to get vaccinated for COVID-19?

The COVID-19 vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna are as safe as other vaccines that transplant recipients receive. We recommend COVID-19 vaccination for transplant patients. The risks associated with getting the vaccine are minimal and are outweighed by the risk of severe illness should you not receive the vaccine and become infected with COVID-19. We do not recommend receiving a live-virus vaccine, however both current available vaccines (Pfizer and Moderna) do not contain live virus.

The FDA and CDC have authorized providing a third dose of the Pfizer (12 and up) or Moderna (18 and up) COVID-19 vaccines for individuals who may be moderately or severely immunocompromised, such as transplant recipients or those undergoing treatment for cancer. Eligible patients need to wait a minimum of 28 days from their second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine before receiving the third dose. 

People should talk to their healthcare provider about their medical condition, and whether getting an additional dose is appropriate for them.

Click here for more COVID-19 information and precautions for Transplant Patients.