(WSYR-TV) — With the COVID-19 vaccine here in Central New York, viewers have been submitting many questions about what comes next.

To help answer these questions, Upstate University Hospital’s Chief of Infectious Disease Dr. Stephen Thomas joined NewsChannel 9 for a special in-depth conversation on the COVID-19 vaccine Thursday night.

What was it like to get the vaccine?

Dr. Thomas received the vaccine on Wednesday, Dec. 16. He told NewsChannel 9 that the process was “great” and “seamless.” He had received an email that it was his time to receive his first dose and “rushed over the next morning.”

Thomas also said that taking this vaccine felt better than some of the other vaccines he has had to take in the past.

According to Thomas, around three to five people out of every 10 people complained of mild to moderate headaches and fatigue with the Pfizer vaccine.

He said that, normally, reactions occur “pretty quickly,” but they also go away quickly.

Will each dose of the vaccine be the same strength?

Thomas said that both doses will be the same.

With the Pfizer vaccine, the doses are done three weeks apart.

For the Moderna vaccine, the doses are done four weeks apart.

Why do we need both shots?

According to Thomas, we need two doses because immunity isn’t as high with only one dose.

With both doses, each vaccine — Pfizer and Moderna — are around 94% to 95% effective.

Do you have to stick to the same brand for both doses?

Thomas said that you cannot “mix and match” with the vaccine.

So, if your first dose is the Pfizer vaccine, then your second dose has to be the Pfizer vaccine and vice versa.

Do you expect this to be an annual vaccine?

Thomas said that he hopes the COVID-19 vaccine doesn’t have to be given each year.

He said that, right now, it looks like a single vaccine — two doses — should take us through the next couple of years, but he is unsure.

Should we be concerned about COVID-19 scams?

It is important for the public to understand that there is a staggered approach to rolling out the vaccine.

Thomas said that those who will be vaccinated first include, but are not limited to:

  • Health care workers
  • Nursing home residents
  • Nursing home staff

This group alone is about 24 million people in the United States and we don’t have that many doses yet.

If you receive a call saying it is time for you to get your vaccine and you aren’t in one of those categories, then do not believe it.

Who can and cannot get the vaccine?

Thomas said that those who are allergic to components in the vaccine will not be able to take it.

You can find those components of the Pfizer vaccine by clicking here.

Those who have had allergic reactions to vaccines before should speak with their doctor.

Those who have conditions that suppress their immune system, are pregnant, or are breastfeeding should also speak with their doctor before receiving the vaccine.

The best thing to do is to talk with your provider and make a joint decision on what you should do about the vaccine.

Is vaccinating children a concern right now?

The Moderna vaccine is only for those who are 18 and older. The Pfizer vaccine is only for those who are 16 and older.

Upstate is currently enrolling those who are 12 to 15 years old in a study.

Thomas said that the vaccine cannot be used in children just yet. We might have to wait until the summer or fall of 2021 to know more information.

There will likely be more studies done throughout next year involving children, pregnant women, and people who are immunocompromised.

If you’ve had COVID-19, do you still need to get the vaccine?

“My recommendation is that you do get vaccinated, even if you had COVID,” Dr. Thomas said.

In both trials, Thomas said they tested nearly 1,000 people who had previously had COVID-19 and it was still safe and effective.

Doctors are unsure of how long you are protected after you are infected. People can get infected a second time. This happens infrequently, according to Thomas, but it still happens.

Will people have to take a COVID-19 test before getting vaccinated?

Thomas said that you will not have to take a COVID-19 test before getting vaccinated.

What is the impact of the vaccine on different ethnicities?

They tried hard to make the study groups diverse, but Thomas said that about 80% of people in the studies were white.

He also said that about 10% were African American, 4% of Asian heritage, and “smaller numbers thereafter.”

Either way, he said that the safety and effectiveness were the same across all groups and ages.

Are you concerned that people are going to let their guard down now that the vaccine is out?

This is always a concern for Dr. Thomas. He said that not wearing masks and gathering in large groups has put us in the current situation that we are in.

He also said that it can get worse than this.

Can you choose which vaccine you receive?

It is not clear just yet, but Thomas believes that, since we don’t have enough vaccinations, you most likely won’t get to choose which brand you get.

What is your message?

Thomas said that everyone should educate themselves, go to more than one reliable source, and have a discussion with their medical provider.

He said that this is “not a time to go into your group think tank on social media.” Thomas said that the stakes are too high for this.

How exactly does the vaccine protect us?

Thomas said that a vaccine can do the following things:

  • Prevent infection
  • Prevent sickness
  • Prevent transmission

According to Thomas, we have only proven that the vaccine prevents sickness.

This is why we still need people to wear masks because the vaccine isn’t 100% effective.

When can we breathe again?

Thomas said we need two things:

  • Reliable rollout of vaccines
  • People to take the vaccine (about 70% of the eligible population)

If those two things can happen, and people “drastically improve” their actions, Thomas believes we could have a “good summer next year.”