COVID-19 Vaccines Frequently Asked Questions

We know that many people are eager to receive a COVID-19 vaccine and we are committed to vaccinating our patients as quickly as possible based on supply and scheduling capacity. Due to the large number of individuals who are eligible and the limited amount of available vaccine, it may still be some time before we are able to schedule everyone for a vaccination.

Listed below are answers to common questions individuals may have about the vaccine, the vaccination process and related topics.

COVID-19 Vaccine Availability

When can I get the vaccine?

State guidelines determine who will receive the vaccine first. The vaccines will be given in “phases” that focus on specific groups of people. As vaccine supply and the number of vaccinators increase, phases for distribution may overlap. Currently these are the phases and groups eligible for vaccination:

Phase 1A

  • Medical and emergency workers
  • Residents in skilled nursing and long-term care facilities

Phase 1B

  • Police officers and firefighters
  • Starting January 25, 2021: People 65 years of age and older

If you are a UW Health patient, the best thing you can do is make sure you have an active MyChart account. UW Health patients will be notified via MyChart when and how to schedule. If you are not already signed up, you can learn how at uwhealth.org/mychart

If your primary care physician is with UW Health, you can complete this COVID-19 vaccine interest form. While this interest form does not guarantee an appointment or replace the scheduling process, we may contact you for same day appointments if they become available.

Why is Wisconsin not offering the COVID-19 vaccine to the general public? Why are vaccines already being offered to the public in different states?

States were given the ability to individually determine prioritization. The state of Wisconsin made the decision to follow the guidelines set forth by the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Can I get on a waiting list for the vaccine? How can I stay up to date on when I can get the vaccine?

If your primary care physician is with UW Health, you can complete this COVID-19 vaccine interest form. While this interest form does not guarantee an appointment or replace the scheduling process, we may contact you for same-day appointments if they become available.

We want to get vaccines to our patients as quickly as possible when they become available. When we have updates, we will communicate with our patients and the community. If you are a UW Health patient, the best thing you can do is make sure you have an active MyChart account. UW Health patients will be notified via MyChart when and how to schedule. If you are not already signed up, you can learn how at uwhealth.org/mychart

How will I be notified about the vaccine if I am a UW Health patient, but I do not have or do not want MyChart?

If you are a UW Health patient and you do not have MyChart, you will be notified that you are eligible to schedule your COVID-19 vaccine by a text or phone call message with instructions on how to schedule. If you can, we do recommend that you sign up for MyChart. It is the best way to receive vaccine scheduling notifications and instructions. You can learn how at uwhealth.org/mychart

Can I get updates by calling my healthcare provider?

We understand people are eager to learn more about vaccines, but 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.

Will there be enough vaccines for everyone?

There is currently limited supply of COVID-19 vaccines, but supply is expected to increase with widespread availability at some point in 2021. The goal is for everyone to be able to easily get a COVID-19 vaccine as soon as quantities are available.

When will children be able to get vaccinated?

Children, under the age of 16 years, will not be able to receive the COVID-19 vaccine immediately. Children have just recently been included in COVID-19 trials and it is unclear when children 16 years and younger will be able to get vaccinated. We will communicate with patients and the community when we have updates about the availability of vaccines, including for children. If your child is a UW Health patient, the best thing you can do is make sure you have an active MyChart account and request proxy access to your child’s account. If you are not already signed up for MyChart, you can learn how at uwhealth.org/mychart

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 the vaccine and how it will be distributed?

If you are interested in reading more about vaccines, two great sources are the CDC and the Wisconsin Department of Health Services.

Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine Fact Sheet for Recipients and Caregivers (pdf)

Getting Vaccinated

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

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?

Currently two doses of the vaccine are required. Doses will be administered about 3-4 weeks apart. Dose spacing varies depending which version of the vaccine is being used. There are vaccines currently in testing that require only one injection but are not currently available.

How will I know when and how to schedule my second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine?

A second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine is given no earlier than 21 days after the 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.

If you are a UW Health patient, the best thing you can do is make sure you have an active MyChart account. UW Health patients will be notified via MyChart when and how to schedule. If you are not already signed up, you can learn how at uwhealth.org/mychart

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 receive. Once you get the first dose, you will have to receive the same brand for the second dose.

Where will we be able to receive the COVID-19 vaccine when they become available?

While all vaccine sites have not been identified yet, our intention is to use a variety of locations to best meet our patient’s needs.

If I have had an allergic reaction to other types of vaccines, 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.

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. Given these unknowns, we do recommend vaccination even if you have previously been diagnosed with COVID-19.

If your infection occurred more than 90 days ago, we recommend that you be vaccinated when it becomes available to you. If your infection occurred within the last 90 days, you may be vaccinated once you have fully recovered. You may experience fewer side effects from the vaccine if you receive it closer to the end of that 90-day period.

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

Currently, there is not data on the safety and efficacy of mRNA COVID-19 vaccines in persons who received monoclonal antibodies or convalescent plasma as part of COVID-19 treatment. Based on the estimated half-life of such therapies, as well as evidence suggesting that reinfection is uncommon in the 90 days after initial infection, vaccination should be delayed for at least 90 days. This is a precautionary measure until additional information becomes available.

This recommendation applies to persons who receive passive antibody therapy before receiving any vaccine doses, as well as those who receive passive antibody therapy after the first dose but before the second dose, in which case the second dose should be deferred for at least 90 days following receipt of the antibody therapy.

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.

Post-Vaccination and Side Effects

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

Mild or moderate side effects include fatigue, nausea, muscle pain, chills, joint pain and headache. Adverse events are more common after the second vaccination. 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?

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 911 in the case of a severe reaction. If you experience a medical emergency, such as trouble breathing, call 911 immediately.

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?

The body’s building of an immune response after vaccination is not instantaneous – it can take weeks. In the case of COVID-19 vaccines, studies from the existing trials show that immunity will develop largely within 1-2 weeks after receiving the SECOND dose of the vaccine. It is strongly recommended that if you choose to be vaccinated, you complete both doses, as it is uncertain what level of immunity would be gained from only a single dose, but it would be almost certainly less than the immunity provided by receiving both doses.

We will not know how long immunity lasts until those that receive the vaccines are followed over longer periods of time. This will also help determine whether further booster doses are required. 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.

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 the protection that COVID-19 vaccines provide under real-life conditions, it will be 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.

Patients with Specific Health Concerns

I am at high risk. How do I get vaccinated early?

State guidelines determine who will receive the vaccine first. UW Health is committed to vaccinating our community as quickly as possible.

If your primary care physician is with UW Health, you can complete this COVID-19 vaccine interest form. While this interest form does not guarantee an appointment or replace the scheduling process, we may contact you for same day appointments if they become available.

If my spouse or my family member that I live with is high risk, can I receive the vaccine at the same time?

Vaccination prioritization is based solely on individual’s own risk. UW Health is committed to vaccinating our community as quickly as possible.

If your primary care physician is with UW Health, you can complete this COVID-19 vaccine interest form. While this interest form does not guarantee an appointment or replace the scheduling process, we may contact you for same day appointments if they become available.

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

Vaccines currently under the Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) have not been tested in pregnant or lactating women. Therefore, there are no safety data specific to use in pregnancy. For women of childbearing age, routine testing for pregnancy prior to vaccination is not recommended by the CDC.

Regardless of your decision to receive or decline vaccination, you should still take other preventative measures such as handwashing, physical distancing and wearing a mask. Click here for additional information from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG).

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.

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

Ask your surgeon because it may depend on the type of surgery and the timing.

I'm currently receiving chemotherapy. Is it safe for me 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 from the American Cancer Society.

I am immunosuppressed. Will I be a higher priority for the vaccine?

Your medical condition may factor into your priority level within your age group.

Additional Information

Are all UW Health staff vaccinated?

In accordance with state guidelines, UW Health providers and staff in Phase 1A have been offered and received the vaccine if they wish.