A safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine is a critical component of the U.S. strategy to reduce COVID-19-related illnesses, hospitalizations, and deaths.
Easy access to COVID-19 vaccines is equally important. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is working with public health departments, health care providers, and other partners to make sure people can easily get a COVID-19 vaccine and that cost is not a barrier. Within Illinois, the CDC recognizes the state and the city of Chicago as separate jurisdictions for the distribution of vaccine. Both Illinois and Chicago, however, are collaborating to ensure that vaccines are delivered and available in accordance with the CDC guidelines and recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP).
Q. When can I get a COVID-19 vaccine?
A. The first supply of COVID-19 vaccine receiving Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) began being distributed in the U.S. on December 14, 2020. During the initial period, referred to as Phase 1a, health care personnel and long-term care (LTC) residents and staff were eligible to be vaccinated. The state as a whole moved to Phase 1b on January 25, 2021 once Phase 1a was substantially completed. The state will move to an expanded 1b on February 25, 2021. We expect vaccine supply to increase over time. (To view the categories of priority populations in Phase 1a and Phase 1b, please see the chart below.)
Q. Where can I get the vaccine?
A. If you are an eligible individual as outlined in Phase 1a or 1b (starting February 25), such as health care workers, first responders, essential workers, or anyone 65 years of age and older, you can find your nearest vaccination site here.
Q. Will the state (or federal government) establish mass immunization programs, like they did in the 1960’s?
A. Illinois is working with local health departments and providers across the state to provide COVID-19 vaccinations that resemble larger versions of yearly flu clinics, rather than the mass vaccination activities of the past.
Q. Will undocumented people be able to get the vaccine?
A. All populations in Illinois, including individuals who are undocumented, can receive the vaccine. No one will be turned away when it is their time to be vaccinated.
Q. My family member was offered a vaccine through their employer. Why can’t the rest of my family get the vaccine?
A. Because vaccine will be very limited when it first comes out, administration will be limited to those identified in prioritized (high-risk) groups by the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) and the CDC. This is to ensure that all individuals in the high-risk groups are able to receive the vaccine. As more vaccine becomes available, those groups eligible to receive the vaccine will expand.
Q. Is there a scheduled date for distribution per phases?
A. There is not a scheduled calendar date, but once ACIP provides its recommendation on priority vaccination groups, IDPH will distribute vaccine to Regional Hospital Coordinating Centers (RHCC) partners throughout the state. From there, the distribution will continue ultimately through local health departments to local health care providers.
Q. Will distribution of vaccine be divided per capita?
A. Vaccine will be distributed according to the population of each county, adjusted to ensure health equity using the COVID-19 Community Vulnerability Index (CCVI).
Q. What about one municipality that has very high numbers of COVID-19 cases within a county that otherwise had less cases? (in reference to prioritizing vaccine distribution)
A. Distribution within counties will be overseen by local health departments (LHD). IDPH will work with LHDs to ensure providers have adequate amounts of vaccine to support the municipalities/communities they serve.
Q. Do the vaccines require more than one shot?
A. The Johnson & Johnson Janseen vaccine only requires a single dose. The Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines require two doses, given weeks apart, to get the most protection.
The first shot of either the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccine starts building protection. A second shot a few weeks later is needed to get the most protection the vaccine has to offer. The Pfizer-BioNTech doses should be given 3 weeks (21 days) apart. Moderna doses should be given 1 month (28 days) apart. You should get your second shot as close to the recommended 3-week or 1-month interval as possible. However, there is no maximum interval between the first and second doses for either vaccine. You should not get the second dose earlier than the recommended interval.
With the Johnson & Johnson Janssen vaccine, protection against moderate to severe disease starts about two weeks after being vaccinated.
Q. Which COVID-19 vaccine should I take?
A. Any COVID-19 vaccine authorized by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is expected to be effective. Data available at this point would suggest that the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines are very similar in their abilities to produce immunity to the virus; the Johnson & Johnson Janssen vaccine was nearly 75% effective. The recommendation would be to take whatever vaccine is made available to you. Be sure to receive the booster shot of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines at the appropriate time. If you choose not to get a second dose, you may reduce the effectiveness of the vaccine. The Johnson & Johnson Janssen vaccine only requires a single dose.
Q. What happens if they run out of the vaccine before I get my second shot?
A. CDC is structuring shipments in such a way that 21 or 28 days after the first shipment, the same number of doses will be shipped, so providers will have enough vaccine for a second dose. The 21- or 28-day requirement between doses is a minimum requirement, not a maximum. If, for some reason, you are unable to receive the second dose at the recommended interval, you can receive the second dose at a later date.
Q. Besides health care workers, who will be able to administer the vaccine?
A. Dentists, pharmacists, and pharmacy technicians have had their scope of practice extended by the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation to allow them to administer the COVID-19 vaccine. IDPH has authorized Emergency Medical Technicians – Intermediate (EMT-I) and Advanced Emergency Medical Technicians to administer the COVID-19 and influenza vaccines after successful completion of an IDPH approved vaccine training program.
Q. Do I have to get a COVID-19 vaccine?
A. There is no federal or state mandate to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. The CDC recommends the vaccine to all Americans 16 and over.
Q. Can my employer require that I receive a COVID-19 vaccine before returning to work?
A. Decisions regarding immunization at private workplaces are up to the employer.
Q. Are schools requiring students to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, similar to mumps and measles? Will restrictions be placed on my child if we refuse to vaccinate?
A. There is no requirement for students to receive the COVID-19 vaccine at this time. Currently, a pediatric vaccine is not available, and it may be some time before one is approved and becomes available.
Q. What happens if I refuse to get vaccinated?
A. There are no legal repercussions (such as fines, sanctions or punishments) for refusing the vaccine. If you do not get vaccinated, you will not be protected against the virus that causes COVID-19 and will be more likely to be infected with the virus. Additionally, you will be at risk of transmitting this deadly virus to loved ones and other community members.
Q. Do I need a vaccine if I have already had COVID-19?
A. Yes, people who have already had COVID-19 should plan to take the COVID-19 vaccine, because the science is currently inconclusive as to whether you will be naturally protected from a second COVID-19 infection in the future. The CDC currently suggests that if you were infected with COVID-19 during the previous 90 days, it is likely that you still have immune protection and that you will be asked to wait to receive your vaccine to allow others to be vaccinated first.
Q. Do I have to get both the flu vaccine and the COVID-19 vaccine?
A. A seasonal flu vaccine will not protect you from COVID-19. Being infected with both the flu and COVID-19 at the same time could lead to a more severe illness, which is why it is more important now than ever to get the flu vaccine.
Q. Is a COVID-19 vaccine safe?
A. The U.S. vaccine safety system is a deliberate and multi-phase process to ensure all vaccines are as safe as possible. Safety is a top priority. Vaccine candidates conduct clinical trials with many thousands of study participants to generate scientific data and other information for the FDA to determine their safety and effectiveness.
If the FDA determines a vaccine meets its safety and effectiveness standards, it can make these vaccines available for use in the U.S. by approval or Emergency Use Authorization (EUA). After the FDA makes its determination, ACIP will review the available data in order to make vaccine recommendations to the CDC. ACIP will then recommend vaccine use. After a vaccine is authorized or approved for use, vaccine safety monitoring systems will watch for adverse events (possible side effects). CDC is working to expand safety surveillance through new systems and additional information sources, as well as enhancing existing safety monitoring systems.
Q: How was the COVID-19 vaccine studied?
A: Each authorized COVID-19 vaccine has been studied in large trials of over 30,000 volunteers and shown to be highly effective in preventing COVID-19 disease. The trials involved people of different ages, sex, race/ethnicity, weight, and medical conditions.
Pregnant women and people with weakened immune systems were excluded from the COVID-19 vaccine trials, and so the currently available studies do not provide direct information about vaccine safety and effectiveness in these groups of people. The CDC recommends that those who are pregnant consult with their doctor before taking the vaccine.
Q. Can the COVID-19 vaccine cause me to become infected or infect others?
A. No, you cannot become infected or infect others from receiving the COVID-19 vaccine, because the vaccine contains no live virus. Instead, the vaccine directs your body to produce a protein that teaches your body how to fight off the virus.
Q. How long will it take for COVID-19 vaccines to take effect?
A. The Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines are expected to provide some protection a couple of weeks after your first shot and reaches its greatest effectiveness after your second shot. It is very important to take the second shot within the recommended time period for maximum vaccine effectiveness. The Johnson & Johnson Janssen vaccine is effective 14 days after vaccination.
Q. What have the trials revealed?
A. Through their respective clinical trials, Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna have indicated their vaccines are approximately 95% effective. The Johnson & Johnson Janssen vaccine was found to be more than 74% effective (74.4%).
Information gathered through clinical trials becomes public in the course of the EUA submission. Once the EUA is submitted, these documents become accessible by the public through the FDA.
Q. Can I get a COVID-19 vaccine if I am pregnant?
A. COVID-19 vaccines should be administered to pregnant individuals who choose to be vaccinated. Pregnant individuals can receive a COVID-19 vaccine in any setting authorized to administer these vaccines, including any clinical setting and nonclinical community-based vaccination sites, such as schools, community centers, and other mass vaccination locations. If you have questions about getting vaccinated, talking with a health care provider may help you make an informed decision. While a conversation with a health care provider may be helpful, it is not required prior to vaccination.
Q. Can children get a COVID-19 vaccine?
A. Currently, a pediatric vaccine is not available, and it may be some time before one is approved and becomes available. Clinical trials need to be conducted with children before determining if the existing COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective for them.
Q. Will youth with high risk conditions be included in any of the phases?
A. The availability of a vaccine for youth, under the age of 16 years, will depend on the availability of a pediatric vaccine. Clinical trials need to be conducted with children before determining if the existing COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective for them.
Q. Can the COVID-19 vaccine make me sick with COVID-19?
A. No. The COVID-19 vaccines do not contain the live virus that causes COVID-19. This means that a COVID-19 vaccine cannot make you sick. The vaccine teaches our immune systems how to recognize and fight the virus that causes COVID-19. Sometimes this process can cause symptoms, such as fever. These symptoms are normal and are a sign that the body is building protection against the virus that causes COVID-19.
Q. After getting a flu shot, I always get the flu. Will this cause me to get COVID-19?
A. No, you cannot become infected, or infect others, from receiving the COVID-19 vaccine, because the vaccine contains no live virus. Instead, the vaccine directs your body to produce a protein that teaches your body how to fight off the virus. Some people develop flu-like symptoms, such as mild fever and muscle aches, after getting a flu vaccination. These symptoms are not the same as having influenza.
Q. I have allergies. Is this vaccine safe for me?
A. While serious allergic reactions were not seen in vaccine clinical trials of thousands of patients, rare allergic reactions to vaccines are possible. If you have a history of serious allergic reactions, you should discuss your situation with your healthcare provider. The COVID-19 vaccine does not contain any animal products such as eggs.
Q. What are the side effects of this vaccine?
A. Some people may experience side effects, which are a part of the normal immune response to a vaccine. The majority of the side effects, while not seen in every individual, are signs that your body is recognizing the vaccine and mounting an immune response. Based on prior studies, side effects may include pain, redness and swelling at the site of the injection., fatigue, headache, muscle pain, chills, joint pain, fever, nausea, malaise, and swollen lymph nodes. These symptoms may occur within 2 days after the shot and last 1 to 2 days. Side effects may be more frequent after the 2nd shot (booster) and less frequent among older adults
Long-term side effects are unknown, although most vaccines do not have long-term side effects. Vaccine studies are ongoing and will continue to monitor and watch for adverse events.
Q. It took four years to develop the mumps vaccine, how can the COVID-19 vaccine be safe and thoroughly tested so quickly?
A. Many things helped this vaccine get developed so rapidly. Significant resources were invested to fund the basic research and clinical trials, accelerating timelines greatly. Joining existing trial sites instead of developing new sites was a time saver. The virus has a good vaccination target and relatively low mutation rate. Additionally, the amount of infection in the communities allowed scientists to quickly compare vaccinated to unvaccinated populations and conclusively shows the vaccine worked. Last, but not least, are the huge number of brave volunteers willing to try the “novel” vaccines during the clinical trials.
Q. How long will the vaccine protect me from COVID-19? Will this be an annual vaccination, like the flu?
A. We are still learning about length of immunity. To determine how long protection lasts, follow-up studies are required to detect levels of both types of immune responses – antibody and T cell – as well as any repeated exposure risks. As more information becomes available, more information will be shared on the length of immunity.
Q. Can I get COVID-19 after the first dose of the vaccine?
A. Although the first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccine offers some immunity, you will still be considered susceptible to COVID-19. The first dose of the vaccine will provide some protection, but the recommendation is to receive two doses to be protected as intended. Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna have indicated that after the two doses their vaccines are approximately 95% effective.
The Johnson & Johnson Janssen vaccine only requires a single dose and is more than 74% effective after 14 days.
Q. All the research indicates that I am at high risk for contracting COVID-19, yet I am not considered eligible for the vaccine. How is that fair?
A. The vaccine manufacturers, CDC, and the state are all committed to getting the vaccine to everyone as soon as possible. ACIP is a group of medical and public health experts that develop recommendations on how to use vaccines to control diseases in the U.S. ACIP decides on vaccine prioritization recommendations by reviewing the FDA information, clinical trial data, and other information. Initially, the limited supply of vaccine will only be available to those determined to be most at risk of exposure to COVID-19. As the vaccine supply increases, more people will be added to those prioritized until it is available to the adult population at large.
Q. Is this vaccine preservative free?
A. Yes. The vaccines currently offered are preservative free.
Q. Will a COVID-19 vaccination protect me from getting sick with COVID-19?
A. Yes. COVID-19 vaccination works by teaching your immune system how to recognize and fight the virus that causes COVID-19, and this protects you from getting sick with COVID-19.
The first two vaccines approved for use in the U.S. – one by Pfizer-BioNTech, the other by Moderna – are known as mRNA vaccines and contain material from the COVID-19 virus that gives our cells instructions to make a harmless protein that is unique to the virus. After our cells make copies of the protein, they destroy the genetic material from the vaccine. Our bodies recognize that the protein should not be there and build T-lymphocytes and B-lymphocytes that will remember how to fight the COVID-19 virus if we are infected in the future.
The Johnson & Johnson Janssen vaccine employs a common cold virus genetically engineered to infect cells and deliver genetic instructions to stimulate an overwhelming immune response. The vaccine uses the cold virus (called adenovirus type 26) to deliver a piece of genetic material (DNA) to make the distinctive “spike” protein found on the surface of the COVID-19 virus. The altered cold virus enters cells and follows the genetic instructions to replicate the coronavirus spike. The body’s immune system can then use these replicas to recognize and to react defensively, triggering an immune response against the actual COVID-19 virus.
Q. I would like to know how we plan to roll out an educational campaign for vaccine.
A. Along with educational and communications campaigns from the federal government, the state will use multiple traditional, social, and community media platforms to communicate across Illinois. Providers, statewide, will be educated in the particular vaccine products after EUA approval, but before administering vaccine.
Q. How many people need to get vaccinated to have herd immunity to COVID-19?
A. The percentage of people who need to have protection in order to achieve herd immunity varies by disease. Scientists estimate that to control COVID-19 and reach herd immunity, about 7 or 8 of every 10 people (75%-80%) will need to be immune.
Q. What are the vaccine recommendations for children under age 16?
A. Until more studies are completed, a vaccine for children under 16 is not expected to be available in the immediate future.
Q. The vaccine is now available, when will we move to Phase 5 of the Restore Illinois plan? If not now, what is required to get to Phase 5?
A. At this time, we are not able to immediately move to Phase 5. The vaccine and/or a highly effective treatment needs to be widely available, and new cases need to be eliminated for a sustained period of time, before we can move to Phase 5 or we risk the possibility of increased cases, hospitalizations, and deaths.
Q. If I get the vaccine, can I quit wearing a mask?
A. No. While the COVID-19 vaccine is highly effective, it is not 100% effective. Until the COVID-19 pandemic is controlled, people who receive the vaccine need to continue following Illinois Department of Public Health guidance, such as the use of face masks, social distancing, regular hand washing, and avoiding crowds and poorly ventilated spaces. Even after vaccination you can be an asymptomatic carrier of the COVID-19 virus and possibly infect others.
Q: Can I get more than one vaccine?
A: No. Current CDC guidance states that the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines are not interchangeable. You should not get more than one type of coronavirus vaccine, and you should not mix the two-dose vaccines.
Q: Is it possible to compare the effectiveness of the three COVID-19 vaccines?
A: No. The only way to accurately compare the effectiveness of vaccines is by direct comparison in head-to-head clinical trials, which did not occur for these vaccines. Furthermore, the clinical trials for these vaccines occurred in different geographic regions and at different points in time with varying incidence of COVID-19.
Q: When will masking and social distancing be able to end, allowing us to get back to normal life?
A: Given the time it takes to get large quantities of the vaccine produced and distributed, we will need to continue our current mitigation practices for some time. It will remain important that vaccinated people continue to wear masks, practice social distancing and good hand hygiene to help prevent spread. Community infection rates will be continuously monitored and will be used to guide the decision process.
Q. Who is paying for the COVID-19 vaccines?
A. The federal government is providing the vaccine free of charge to all people living in the United States.
Q. Can the State purchase more vaccine?
A. No. The federal government oversees the allocation of vaccine to states.
Q. How much will this vaccine cost me? Is it covered by my insurance?
A. There is no cost for the vaccine. However, vaccination providers can charge an administration fee for giving the shot that is reimbursed by the patient’s public or private insurance company or, for uninsured patients, by the Health Resources and Services Administration at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. No one can be denied a vaccine if they are unable to pay a vaccine administration fee.
Q. Will the administrative fees be passed on to the patient in the form of a co-pay or deductible?
Q. Will the manufacturing workers who were deemed essential also be in the first round?
A. Individuals who have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19 and frontline workers with higher risk of exposure because of their inability to perform work duties remotely and proximity to other co-workers or members of the public are included in Phase 1b.
What are the priority groups?
The current priority groups that have been released, based on the guidance of ACIP, are as follows:
Phase 1a Priority Groups
Health care workers, as well as residents and personnel in long-term congregate care facilities where high rates of transmission and outbreaks can occur.
Health care personnel
- Hospital settings
- Non-hospital health care
- Medical outpatient clinics
- Public health clinics
- Local Health Department Points of Distribution (PODs)
- Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs)
- Home health care workers
- Home health aides
Long-term care facility staff and all residents
- Skilled Nursing Facilities
- Assisted Living Facilities
- Intermediate Care Facilities for Persons with Developmental Disabilities
- Intermediate Care Facilities for Persons with Severe Mental Illness
- State-run Veterans’ Homes
- State-operated Centers for Persons with Developmental Disabilities
- State-operated Mental Health Centers
- Residential Treatment Centers for Substance Abuse
Other identified congregate care staff and all residents
- Continuing Care Residential Facilities
- Residential Care Adult Homes
- Supportive Housing for Seniors
- Supportive Residential Facilities for Persons with Developmental Disabilities
- Supportive Residential Facilities for Persons with Severe Mental Illness
- Community Integrated Living Arrangements
- Supervised Residential Facilities for Persons with Developmental Disabilities
- Supervised Residential Facilities for Persons with Severe Mental Illness
Phase 1b Priority Groups
Persons who have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19 and frontline workers with higher risk of exposure due to their inability to work remotely and proximity to coworkers or the public.
Age 65 or older
Frontline essential worker (Below are examples of frontline workers within the eligible categories for Phase 1b)
Fire, law enforcement, 911 worker, security personnel, school officer
K-12 teacher, school administrator, student support staff, student aide, day care worker and center-based child care provider, home visiting provider, early intervention therapists, Head Start/Early Head Start provider, Preschool for All provider
Food and agriculture
Processing plants, veterinary health, livestock services, animal care
Industrial production of goods for distribution to retail, wholesale, or other manufacturers
Corrections workers and incarcerated individuals
Correctional officer and staff, jail officer and staff, juvenile facility staff, a worker providing in-person support or services, incarcerated individuals
U. S. Postal Service worker
Public transit worker
Flight crew, bus driver, train conductor, taxi driver, para-transit driver, in-person support, ride sharing service driver
Grocery store worker
Bagger, cashier, stocker, pickup, customer service
Shelters and adult day care staff
Homeless shelter, women’s shelter, adult day/drop-in program, sheltered workshop
Phase 1b Plus Priority Groups
Persons with specific health-complicating conditions or status.
- Pulmonary Diseases
- Heart Conditions
- Chronic Kidney Disease
- Solid Organ Transplant
- Sickle Cell Disease
Persons with a Disability (Not otherwise covered in previous categories.)
After adjusted COVID-19 mortality rates by age, the CDC found that Hispanic and Black Americans were dying at a rate of almost 3 times that of White Americans.
In Illinois, the average age of COVID-19 death is 81 for white residents, 72 for Black residents and 68 for Latino residents.
While the highest count of COVID-19 deaths is among those 75 years and older, minority populations are dying at younger ages. Given those facts, vaccine is being made available to those age 65 and older.
Additional information on confirmed and potential priority groups can be found here:
Health care personnel continue to be on the front line of the nation’s fight against this deadly pandemic. By providing critical care to those infected with the virus that causes COVID-19, many health care personnel are at high risk of being exposed to and getting sick with COVID-19. Health care personnel who get COVID-19 can also spread the virus to patients seeking care for other medical conditions that, in turn, increase patients’ risk for severe COVID-19 illness. Early vaccine access is critical to ensuring the health and safety of this essential workforce of approximately 21 million people across the USA, protecting not only them but also their patients, communities, and the broader health of our country.
People with certain underlying medical conditions are at increased risk for severe COVID-19 illness, regardless of their age. Severe illness means that the person with COVID-19 may require hospitalization, intensive care, or a ventilator to help them breathe, or that they are at increased risk of dying. Early vaccine access is essential to ensuring the health and safety of this population that is disproportionately affected by COVID-19.
Among adults, the risk for severe illness and death from COVID-19 increases with age, with older adults considered to be at the highest risk. Early vaccine access is vital to help protect this population that has been disproportionately affected by COVID-19.
Workers in essential and critical industries are considered part of America’s critical infrastructure, as defined by the Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency. Current data show that many of these workers are at increased risk for getting COVID-19. Early vaccine access is to protect them in order to maintain the essential services they provide U.S. communities.