MILWAUKEE — Every day, more and more Wisconsinites are getting life-saving doses of COVID-19 vaccines.
The vaccines have brought some hope for the end of the pandemic — and also a lot of questions. Here, we walk you through the key information you should know about getting your shot here in Wisconsin.
Can I get my shot now?
Right now, the Badger State has opened up vaccines to the following groups:
- Health care workers
- Residents and staff of long-term care facilities
- Police, fire personnel, and corrections officers
- Adults 65 and older
If one of those categories applies to you, that means you’re allowed to get your shot now. With limited doses available, though, you may still have to wait a bit until an appointment opens up, the Department of Health Services has cautioned.
I’m not eligible yet. When will I be able to get the vaccine?
Once enough Wisconsinites from these highest-priority groups are vaccinated, the state will add other groups to the list. According to the DHS, the next groups will include:
- Education and childcare workers
- People in Medicaid long-term care programs
- Some public-facing essential workers, including: 911 operators, utility and communications infrastructure workers, public transit workers, food supply chain workers
- Non-frontline essential health care personnel
- Congregate living staff and residents, including incarcerated people
Vaccine rollout will open up to these other Phase 1B groups starting around March 1, according to the DHS, although the date could change depending on vaccine supply.
After those groups are added, the state will expand to Phase 1C, which hasn’t been finalized but may include other essential workers and Wisconsinites with underlying conditions.
Finally, Gov. Tony Evers has predicted that vaccines will open up to the rest of the general public over the summer — though again, the exact timeline will depend on the pace of doses sent over from the federal government.
How do I schedule an appointment?
Your best bet is to check with your health care provider, pharmacy, or local health department — wherever you would go to get your flu shot in a normal year.
Many vaccine providers are asking Wisconsinites to check online if they can, instead of calling in directly. And some doctors are reaching out to their patients firsthand if they’re over 65 or otherwise eligible.
And keep an eye out for more statewide tech to come: The DHS says it is working with Microsoft to test out a vaccine scheduling tool in the coming weeks.
Do I have to prepare for my vaccine appointment ahead of time?
The short answer: Nope! If you’re feeling healthy and don’t have any relevant allergies, you’re ready to go.
If you are feeling sick, you should consult with your provider about getting the shot, especially if you think you might have COVID-19. And if you do test positive for COVID-19, you should wait until you’re recovered to get your vaccine, the CDC says.
Doctors advise against taking painkillers before getting your shot, because there’s a chance they could interfere with your immune response. Same goes for those informal pain relievers: Drinking alcohol around the time you get your vaccine could suppress your immune system too, studies have shown.
What should I expect at my appointment?
Check with your vaccine provider to see what you need to bring to your vaccine appointment.
You will not need to bring any payment — the vaccine is free for everyone. Your vaccination site might ask you to bring an ID, insurance card, or appointment confirmation email, if you have them.
You should wear a mask or face covering to your appointment to keep yourself and your vaccine provider safe. Remember to maintain 6 feet of distance from anyone else in line for their shots.
Right after you get your shot, your provider should keep you for about 15 to 20 minutes to monitor for any serious side effects. Severe allergic reactions to the shots have been very rare, but your provider will likely monitor you just in case.
Before you leave, you should get two things from your provider, the CDC explains: A fact sheet with more information about the vaccine — either online or on paper — and a vaccine card documenting which shot you got, where you got it, and when.
Both current COVID-19 vaccines require two doses for full protection, so make sure you know how to schedule a follow-up before you leave your appointment. If you get the Pfizer shot, you should return around 21 days after your first dose, according to the FDA; for the Moderna shot, you should come back around 28 days after.
You can also sign up for v-safe, a CDC tool on your smartphone that offers health check-ins after the shot and reminders to get your second dose.
And what about after the shot?
It’s possible you will feel some uncomfortable effects after getting your COVID-19 vaccine. That’s actually a good sign that your immune system is kicking into gear and building up protection to the coronavirus.
The CDC says some of the most common side effects include some pain and swelling on the arm where you got the shot, as well as general fatigue, chills, fever, or headaches. These effects might be more intense after the second dose, because your body is building up an even stronger immune response.
It’s probably fine to take over-the-counter medicine after the shot if you’re dealing with side effects. But the CDC recommends trying out other methods if you can: Covering a sore arm with a cool washcloth, for example, and drinking lots of fluids if you have a fever.
If your side effects are really intense or aren’t going away after a few days, you should check in with your health care provider.
Even after you get your shot, experts still recommend taking precautions against COVID-19, like wearing masks and social distancing.
It will take some time for your body to build up immunity after you get the vaccine, so you won’t get the full protective benefits for several weeks. Plus, scientists are still trying to confirm whether vaccinated people can spread the virus without feeling sick, so keeping up preventive measures will help keep those around you safe, especially if they haven’t gotten their shots yet.
Is there anyone who should avoid getting the vaccine?
Clinical trials showed that the vaccines are very safe for most people. But there are some groups with special considerations.
The COVID-19 vaccines haven’t been approved for children yet, because clinical trials focused on measuring the shots’ safety and efficacy in adults.
Scientists at Pfizer and Moderna are now working to test the shots in adolescents, and after that would move on to younger kids if those trials go well. But for now, the FDA has set the minimum age at 16 for Pfizer’s vaccine and 18 for Moderna’s.
There’s also not much data for pregnant or immunocompromised people, because not many people from these groups participated in clinical trials. But the CDC says these groups can still choose to get the vaccine, especially because they may be at higher risk of severe COVID-19 symptoms.
If you are allergic to any of the ingredients in the currently available COVID-19 vaccines, you should hold off on getting the shot, according to the CDC. And if you have experienced a severe allergic reaction to a different vaccine in the past, you should consult with your doctor to discuss whether the COVID-19 vaccine will be safe for you.