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Coronavirus vaccines: What we know so far

When will vaccines be available? Who can get shots? How do we know they’re safe?

The news of effective vaccines against the coronavirus has been a bright spot in a global pandemic that has killed more than 1.5 million people worldwide and hundreds of thousands in the U.S. In Wisconsin, more than 3,800 people have died from COVID-19 so far.

States are waiting for federal approval before being able to start giving shots. That approval could come very soon. So, what do we know so far about the vaccines and what distribution might look like in Wisconsin?

Who will get the first shots?

Nurses, doctors and those in long-term care facilities will get first dibs on what initially will be a limited supply of vaccine. Wisconsin is expecting roughly 65,000 doses from two pharmaceutical companies, Pfizer and Moderna.

After health care personnel exposed to or treating people with COVID-19 are vaccinated and more doses are available, the next in line with be people 65 and older and other essential workers defined by federal and state advisory panels.

Coronavirus vaccines may not be widely available to the general public until spring or summer. Health officials say it's important for people to continue wearing masks and limit face-to-face interactions with those outside their immediate family to minimize spread of the virus.


What has to happen before people are immunized?

The vaccines need approval from federal regulators. Because of the urgency, the Food and Drug Administration will consider issuing an emergency use authorization. A federal advisory committee assessing the safety and effectiveness of the Pfizer vaccine met Thursday. If given the green light, the first shipment could come next week.

But before people roll up their sleeve for a shot, an advisory group for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will determine dosage, flag potential side effects and decide who should and shouldn’t get shots, according to state officials .

What will a shot cost?

People won’t be charged for the actual shot when they get vaccinated. Vaccine doses were purchased with U.S. taxpayer dollars . But there will be a bill for administering the shot. Health care providers can charge a person’s private insurance, or public health insurance through Medicare or Medicaid.

Health systems can also seek reimbursement from the Health Resources and Services Administration’s Provider Relief Fund which was part of the CARES Act passed by Congress to provide assistance to workers, hospitals and others during the pandemic.

How many shots will you need?

Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines require two shots, either 21 or 28 days apart, respectively. The same vaccine must be given for both doses so the medicine matches. People will be reminded when and where to get the second dose from the provider giving the shot.

Vaccinations will be administered by health care systems, local and tribal health departments, nursing homes, assisted living facilities and pharmacies.

Is Wisconsin ready for a vaccine?

In late October, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services released a state COVID-19 vaccination plan outlining a phased-in approach to vaccinating different groups at different times depending on risk and vaccine availability. The following month the state started trying to line up vaccinators to give coronavirus shots.

The Pfizer vaccine needs to be stored at ultra-cold temperatures, colder than -94 degrees Fahrenheit, in special freezers. State officials say each of the state’s seven Healthcare Emergency Readiness Coalition (HERC) regions have facilities where the vaccine can be stored and that they are working with manufacturers of dry ice so that the vaccine can be transported. For example, UW Health announced it is preparing to serve as a central storage facility for a HERC region’s supply of the Pfizer vaccine.


What about vaccine safety?

Pfizer and Moderna enrolled 43,000 and 30,000 people, respectively, in their clinical trials to come up with evidence on effectiveness and safety, which they present to federal regulators before emergency use authorization is granted.

Outside experts will advise the FDA on whether to approve vaccines and following approval, there will be safety monitoring systems to watch for side effects. The federal government will keep track of any adverse reactions to coronavirus vaccines by relying on providers and the public to report any possible occurrences. Health care workers are required to report to the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System.

Wisconsin Public Radio can be heard locally on 91.3 KUWS-FM and at wpr.org.

Wisconsin Public Radio, Copyright 2020, Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System and Wisconsin Educational Communications Board.

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