Now that there is an authorized and recommended vaccine to prevent COVID-19 in the United States, here are 9 things you need to know about the vaccines, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

The safety of COVID-19 vaccines is a top priority. The CDC has developed a new tool – v-safe – as an additional layer of safety monitoring to increase the ability to rapidly detect any safety issues with the vaccines. V-safe is a new smartphone-based, after-vaccination health checker for people who receive COVID-19 vaccines.

The vaccines will help protect you from getting COVID-19. In a study of more than 43,000 participants who were followed for two months, the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine was 95% effective in preventing symptomatic lab-confirmed COVID-19 in persons without evidence of previous coronavirus infection. Also, based on what we know about vaccines for other diseases, experts believe that getting a COVID-19 vaccine may help keep you from getting seriously ill even if you do get COVID-19.

Two doses are needed. You need both doses of the currently available COVID-19 vaccine. A second shot three to four weeks after your first shot – depending on which vaccine you get – is needed to get the most protection the vaccine has to offer against this serious disease. Get the second shot even if you have side effects after the first shot, unless a vaccination provider or your doctor tells you not to get a second shot.

Right now, CDC recommends the vaccine be offered to healthcare personnel and residents of long-term care facilities, like nursing homes. Because the current supply of COVID-19 vaccine in the United States is limited, CDC recommends that initial supplies of COVID-19 vaccine be offered to healthcare personnel and long-term care facility residents. Essential workers and those 75 and older are to be vaccinated next.

There is currently a limited supply of the vaccine in the United States, but supply will increase in the weeks and months to come. The goal is for everyone to be able to easily get vaccinated against COVID-19 as soon as large enough quantities are available. Once vaccine is widely available, the plan is to have several thousand vaccination providers offering COVID-19 vaccines in doctors’ offices, retail pharmacies, hospitals and federally qualified health centers.

After your vaccination, you may have some side effects. This is a normal sign that your body is building protection. The side effects from COVID-19 vaccination may feel like flu and might even affect your ability to do daily activities, but they should go away in a few days. Common side effects include discomfort on the arm where you got the shot; pain and swelling throughout the rest of your body; fever, chills, tiredness; and headache. If you have pain or discomfort, talk to your doctor about taking an over-the-counter medicine, such as Ibuprofen or Acetaminophen. Side effects were more commonly reported after the second dose than after the first dose, and were less common in people older than 55.

Cost is not an obstacle to getting vaccinated. Vaccine doses purchased with U.S. taxpayer dollars will be given to the American people at no cost. However, vaccination providers may be able to charge administration fees for giving the shot. Vaccination providers can get this fee reimbursed by the patient’s public or private insurance company, or, for uninsured patients, by the Health Resources and Services Administration’s Provider Relief Fund.

The first vaccine is being used under emergency use authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Many other vaccines are still being developed and tested.

COVID-19 vaccines are one of many important tools to help us stop this pandemic. It’s important for everyone to continue using all the tools available to help stop this pandemic as we learn more about how COVID-19 vaccines work in real-world conditions.

We need to continue wearing masks over the nose and mouth; wash our hands frequently; practice social distancing by staying at least 6 feet away from others; and avoid crowds and indoor gatherings for the time being.

There is light at the end of this long, dark tunnel. But we must continue to stay safe until more and more of us receive the vaccine. Be sure to do your research from reliable sources of information, and stay safe! 

— State Rep. La Shawn Ford represents the Austin community in the Illinois House.