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For More Up-to-Date Information on the COVID-19 Vaccine

COVID-19 vaccine distribution and administration will be completed in accordance with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines and recommendations. We expect initial vaccine supply to be limited. The vaccine will first be offered to all NorthShore University HealthSystem frontline healthcare workers per CDC guidelines and recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP). As vaccine supplies increase over time, adults would be able to be vaccinated in 2021. As new information becomes available, please return here or visit the IDPH Vaccine FAQ for updates on the Illinois vaccination plan. 

When can I receive the COVID-19 vaccine?

At this time, the COVID-19 vaccine is not available for the general public. We are currently in Phase 1a of the vaccine plan which includes offering the vaccine to our frontline healthcare workers and long-term care residents and staff.  This process is aligned with CDC and Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) recommendations and prioritization. 

Why are some states already administering the vaccine to the public while others are not?

Each state is making its own decisions on adhering to the CDC recommendations, resulting in various groups being prioritized to receive the vaccine. We are following the IDPH recommendations.

Who is included in the next phase and when will it begin?

 The State of Illinois reports that Phase 1b will include residents age 65 and over, and frontline essential workers. We do not know when Phase 1b will begin. At this time, we have no information about how we will receive the vaccine to offer to our patients and the public. Once we have this information, we will share it with you.

Where can I access additional information about how to access the vaccine?

Our colleagues within public health are best equipped to answer your questions. Below, please find contact information for the health department in your area. 

Now that the COVID-19 vaccine has been made available to healthcare workers, when can patients and the general public begin receiving the vaccine?

We appreciate the range of questions that many of you have regarding the availability of the COVID-19 vaccine to the public. At this time, our efforts are focused on providing the vaccine to our healthcare workers. Our process is aligned with CDC recommendations and prioritization approach. Currently, we have no information about how we will receive the vaccine to offer to our patients and the public. However, this is a rapidly changing situation and we will update you as we receive information from our colleagues within public health.

Are there any individual factors that make me ineligible to receive the vaccine at this time?

If you’ve had an active COVID-19 infection confirmed by a positive PCR test in the past 90 days, you’re not eligible to receive the vaccine at this time. After the 90-day time window, you’ll be eligible to receive the vaccine. We believe that the antibodies you produce from the infection will be protective to you for 90 days, and this will allow others to be prioritized to receive the vaccine.

The CDC’s Advisory Committee for Immunization Practices also has published its guidance on special populations, and it supports offering COVID-19 vaccine to all individuals age 16 and older. The only absolute contraindication is for individuals with a known anaphylactic reaction to any of the components in the vaccine, in particular to polyethylene glycol. Click here for full details on this clinical guidance. 

I understand there are two doses of the vaccine required, why is that? How long do I need to wait before getting the second dose?

Yes, you will need to take both doses of the vaccine from the same manufacturer administered either 21 or 28 days apart. This double dose allows your body to develop a stronger immune response to counter a future infection. Your body also needs the extra exposure time to learn how to most effectively fight off exposure to the virus.

What do we know about the vaccines’ efficacy?

The data submitted show that the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines have an efficacy of at least 90 percent after 2 doses. A vaccine efficacy of 90 percent means that the vaccine will protect 9 out of 10 individuals from contracting the infection. The data also show that vaccinated individuals have more mild symptoms if infected and didn’t need to be hospitalized as often. 

Do we know how long the vaccine will protect me against COVID-19? 

While the vaccine prevented individuals in the clinical trials from getting COVID in the 90 days after completing the vaccine series, we don’t know how long this protection will last beyond that time frame. Both Pfizer and Moderna began their clinical trials in late July, so they’ve been able to follow their volunteers for only six months. It’s conceivable that the vaccines can provide long-lasting protection, or effectiveness could fade away in under a year and require a booster shot annually. We need more data and time to understand how long the vaccine will last.

How long does it take for the vaccine to become effective?

It typically takes at least a week after the second vaccine dose or approximately one month after you start the two-vaccine series. That means it's possible you could be infected with the virus that causes COVID-19 just before or just after vaccination and get sick. This is because the vaccine has not had enough time to provide protection. So it’s very important that you continue the key safety practices of facemasks, hand hygiene, and social distancing.

Can the vaccinated person still spread COVID-19 once the vaccine takes effect?

We don’t have data on whether receiving the vaccine keeps you from spreading the virus to others. This means that everyone—whether they have received the vaccine or not—will need to continue to wear facemasks, practice physical distancing and good hand hygiene. 

Is the vaccine safe? What is the science data behind it?

The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are being distributed under Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). An FDA advisory committee recommended an EUA for the Pfizer vaccine on Dec. 10, and the Moderna vaccine will be reviewed a week later. Our recommendations assume that both EUAs will be granted. In order for an EUA to be granted, the data submitted is rigorously reviewed by teams of FDA scientists. But this data is yet to be published in the peer-reviewed literature.

How do the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines work?

Both are forms of a new type of vaccine that involves injecting mRNA, which replicates the spike protein on the COVID-19 virus. Once you’re injected with the vaccine, your body begins to manufacture the same spike protein to create antibodies to fight it. If you’ve taken the vaccine and are later exposed to COVID-19, the antibodies created inside your body will keep the virus from entering the cells and causing an infection.

Is it a live vaccine?  

No. The two vaccines with EUA contain the virus mRNA (which is like a recipe) for the spike protein on the virus.  

Can I get COVID-19 from the vaccine?

No. While the vaccine doesn’t contain either live or dead virus, you may develop “flu-like” symptoms such as tiredness, fevers or headaches after receiving one or both doses of the vaccine but these usually resolve within three days.  

If someone has previously had COVID-19, should they get the vaccine?

Due to the severe health risks associated with COVID-19 and the fact that re-infection is possible, people may be advised to get a vaccine even if they have been sick with the virus before. If you have had an infection in the previous 90 days, you will need to wait for 90 days after you have recovered from your COVID infection.

If I currently have COVID-19, should I be vaccinated?

No. If you currently have a COVID-19 infection, you should not receive the vaccine at this time.

What insights can you provide on any potential vaccine side effects for various populations—including the elderly and younger children?

We currently only have safety data from the short-term duration of the study trial. This means that we don’t know all of the potential side effects of the vaccine, particularly long-term side effects. We do know that the following have been reported as possible side effects which can last up to a week after receiving the vaccine:

  • Pain and redness at the injection site 
  • Feeling tired and run down a day after receiving the vaccine
  • Headache, muscle aches, chills, joint pains, or fever
  • Possible allergic reaction in individuals with known allergies 
These symptoms are a sign that your immune system is mounting a response to the vaccine which is good, and is to be expected in an immune response. Remember: these symptoms are expected side effects and aren’t allergies. You should complete the two-dose vaccination series.

What do we know about allergies to vaccines, and the COVID-19 vaccine in particular?

Anaphylaxis after vaccination can be seen with any vaccine or medication. However, it’s rare and often occurs in patients with no prior history of allergic reaction. The risk for anaphylaxis to vaccines has been reported to be approximately one in every million doses. To put this in perspective, the risk of anaphylaxis to penicillin is much higher—approximately one out of 2,000-10,000 courses of treatment.

There have been reports of anaphylaxis and allergic reactions to the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine in the U.S. and the United Kingdom, most of which are quite mild. Details of these reactions are currently being investigated. Additionally, the Moderna vaccine is known to cause some skin reactions, which alone do not preclude receipt of the second vaccine dose.

What precautions are recommended?

Because rare cases of anaphylaxis to vaccines happen, it’s recommended that vaccines be administered in settings equipped with epinephrine and medical personnel trained to treat allergic reactions. With 21 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine expected to be distributed in the coming weeks, we may see some allergic reactions. That’s why a 15-minute post-observation period is recommended for everyone who is vaccinated at this time. Anyone with a history of anaphylaxis, the observation period will be extended to 30 minutes. Please keep in mind that this a new vaccine and a constantly evolving situation.

Are there other reactions that we have seen so far that I should look out for?

Some individuals experience light-headedness, flushing, or tingling which are not allergic symptoms and are more consistent with a vasovagal response or anxiety. These reactions aren’t allergies to the vaccine and individuals who experience them should receive the second vaccine dose.

What if I have a reaction that isn’t anaphylaxis? Could it be an allergy to the vaccine itself?

If you experience hives or itching, shortness of breath, runny nose, congestion, tongue or throat discomfort, these symptoms need to be further discussed with an allergist to determine the best next steps. If you experience any of these type of symptoms, we’ll refer you to NorthShore allergists so you can follow up within 7 days so any additional guidance regarding administration of the second dose of COVID-19 vaccine can be incorporated into your care.

Who shouldn’t receive the COVID-19 vaccine?

The Pfizer or Moderna vaccines should NOT be given if you’re known to have anaphylactic reactions to polyethylene glycol—the active ingredient in Miralax or colonoscopy prep. If you’re allergic to any component of the Pfizer or Moderna COVID-19 vaccine, you should NOT receive it. Click here to review a list of vaccine ingredients and get links to additional resources. If you’ve ever had a negative reaction to any vaccine or injectable therapy, extra caution should be taken—including a 30 minute monitoring after vaccination.

If I have an antibody deficiency or if I’m currently taking an oral steroids or a biologic such as Xolair, Fasenra, Nucala, Dupixent, or take allergy shots, can I receive a COVID-19 vaccine?

The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are not live vaccines and can be administered to these individuals. As with other vaccines, your underlying immune deficient or immune compromised state may prevent you from developing a strong immune response, so remember to mask up, wash up and back up!

What if I’m immune compromised or have an autoimmune disorder. Would it be optimal for me to get vaccinated now or should I wait?

For people who have immunodeficiencies, the COVID-19 vaccine likely will be as effective as it is for the general population. Experts in the field believe that since both vaccines use mRNA—and not live virus—the injection would potentially be suitable for immune-deficient patients. It’s still unclear how the vaccine will work for those who have antibody deficiencies, as they could likely have an incomplete response. Immune-compromised folks should discuss with their physician before deciding on whether to get vaccinated.

I know vaccine information is changing rapidly. Where can I get my questions answered or get the very latest updates?

There are several online resource sites that may be helpful:


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