By Matt Martinez Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service Published Jan 09, 2021 at 10:01 AM

The COVID-19 vaccine is here and could be available to the public as early as spring.

After emergency use authorizations from the Food and Drug Administration, vaccines from both Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna are now in circulation nationwide. Vaccines are currently being distributed to health care workers and residents at long-term care facilities, following Wisconsin Department of Health Services guidelines.

Ahead of the release of the vaccine to the wider public, we gathered information about the coronavirus vaccine from public health organizations.

We also asked two experts about the vaccine: Dr. Joyce Sanchez, assistant professor and infectious disease expert at the Medical College of Wisconsin; and Dr. Lyle Ignace, a CEO of the Gerald L. Ignace Indian Health Center.

Here’s what you need to know:

1. Vaccines require two separate shots

Vaccines from both manufacturers are administered in two separate shots. Both shots are required to make sure that the vaccine is effective.

The Pfizer vaccine is given in two shots separated by about three weeks. The Moderna vaccine also is given in two shots separated by four weeks.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there is a vaccine in development that would require only one shot.

2. How effective is the vaccine?

The Pfizer vaccine was proven to be 95% effective in clinical trials, according to the FDA. The Moderna vaccine was 94% effective.

3. Who can get the vaccine?

The Pfizer vaccine is approved for anyone 16 and older. The Moderna vaccine is approved for anyone 18 and older.

4. Side effects are "minimal"

There are possible side effects resulting from the vaccine.

The FDA lists the Pfizer vaccine’s side effects as injection site pain, tiredness, headache, muscle pain, chills, joint pain, fever, injection site swelling, injection site redness, nausea, feeling unwell and swollen lymph nodes.

The FDA lists the Moderna vaccine’s side effects as fatigue, headache, muscle pain, joint pain, chills, nausea and vomiting and fever.

After receiving his vaccine, Ignace said he had some discomfort in his arm and experienced fatigue about 24 hours after getting the shot. By the end of the next day, he was back to normal.

Some people who received the vaccine have also reported allergic reactions.

Sanchez said allergic reactions have been rare and likely are spurred by ingredients in the vaccine. A full list of ingredients for both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines is provided by the FDA.

Sanchez said anyone with severe allergic reactions should consult their health care professional before receiving the vaccine.

The CDC also urges people to report any issues with the vaccine to the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System.

5. There is no live virus in the vaccine

Sanchez said the vaccine does not contain any live traces of the coronavirus, so you cannot get COVID-19 from it.

Sanchez said the vaccine instead uses messenger RNA (or mRNA) to create part of a “spike protein” that can fight the virus. The mRNA helps develop antibodies to the virus and strengthens the immune system against coronavirus.

6. How long am I protected if I get the vaccine?

Sanchez said it is still too early to tell. Once the vaccine has been out for more than a month, health officials will likely be able to figure out the approximate range for protection.

7. Even if you get the vaccine, it’s still important to practice safety protocols.

Sanchez said the vaccine is proven to protect you from the coronavirus, but it is not yet known if it stops transmission to others. She urged anyone who gets the vaccine to continue wearing masks and social distancing for the time being.

The CDC also said it was important to continue wearing a mask and distancing after receiving the shot.

8. Is the vaccine safe?

Both Ignace and Sanchez say yes.

Sanchez said the vaccine was “exquisitely safe” and that she recommended people receive it in either form. Ignace, in an effort to help remove stigmas about the vaccine, received it during a Facebook Live event.

“That was my way of saying ‘It’s safe, and I’m willing to do it,’” Ignace said.

Ignace encouraged anyone skeptical of the vaccine to read and get informed about it. Sanchez also encouraged people to ask questions about the vaccine and seek out information.