The Vax Facts: Answering your questions on the COVID vaccines
In an effort to answer as many of your pertinent questions as we can about the COVID vaccines, Western's Dr. David Hansen, Western's Associate Medical Director, will address common questions or misconceptions here each day. Have a question for Dr. Hansen? Email it to email@example.com, and don't forget to review Western's existing vaccine FAQ on its coronavirus website, here.
If I am a student with an on-campus presence and have been vaccinated, do I still need to get tested regularly at Fraser Hall?
DH: Yes. There are three key reasons why testing will continue to be important:
- Although we know COVID-19 vaccines are effective at preventing COVID-19 disease, especially severe illness and death, we are still learning how effective the vaccines are against variants of the virus that causes COVID-19. Early data show the vaccines may work against some variants but could be less effective against others.
- We’re also still learning how well COVID-19 vaccines prevent disease transmission. Early data show that the vaccines may help keep people from spreading COVID-19, but we are learning more as more people get vaccinated.
- We’re still learning how long COVID-19 vaccines can protect people.
Until we know more about those questions, everyone — even people who’ve had their vaccines — should continue to wear masks, avoid crowds, socially distance and wash hands frequently.
Can I stop wearing a mask and social distancing once I’m vaccinated?
DH: There is new guidance from the CDC and WCHD on this topic. According to this latest guidance, once you are fully vaccinated (two weeks after your second dose of Moderna or Pfizer, or two weeks after your single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccination), you can:
- Visit with other fully vaccinated people indoors without wearing masks or physical distancing
- Visit with unvaccinated people from a single household who are at low risk for severe COVID-19 disease indoors without wearing masks or physical distancing
- Refrain from quarantine and testing following a known exposure if asymptomatic
For now, fully vaccinated people should continue to:
- Take precautions in public like wearing a well-fitted mask and physical distancing
- Wear masks, practice physical distancing, and adhere to other prevention measures when visiting with unvaccinated people who are at increased risk for severe COVID-19 disease or who have an unvaccinated household member who is at increased risk for severe COVID-19 disease
- Wear masks, maintain physical distance, and practice other prevention measures when visiting with unvaccinated people from multiple households
More details and information on recommendations for fully vaccinated people is available at the CDC website, here.
A rumor spread recently about a local clinic offering vaccines to Western faculty members as part of the governor's new rule opening vaccines to K-12 employees. Is this true, and are WWU employees eligible?
DH: No. A Bellingham clinic did vaccinate a very small number of WWU employees on March 4 in error, and this unfortunately spread quickly via social media. Higher education employees are not currently one of the groups able to be vaccinated per the governor's order. The clinic in question is no longer accepting appointments or completing vaccinations for WWU employees as part of this mandate, and has asked the university to relay this message. Any Western employee currently "in phase" can, of course, get their vaccination done as normal. Click here to see the state's current vaccination phase.
With the recent expansion of vaccine eligibility to educators, does that include higher education instructors and staff?
DH: Western has consulted with Whatcom County Health Department officials, and their interpretation is that K-12 and licensed daycare have now been rolled to Phase 1B1, but that this does not include higher education instructors or staff.
We have been very careful to follow CDC, Department of Health and Governor Inslee’s guidelines throughout this pandemic including Washington’s COVID-19 vaccine phases. At this time, we would encourage anyone who meets the criteria for Phase 1B1 — now including K-12 and licensed daycare workers, in addition to those 65 and older and those 50 and older in multigenerational households — to contact their medical providers or to review https://vaccinefinder.org/ for vaccine sites.
We understand that changes to eligibility are causing confusion for some and that the wait for vaccines is a source of frustration for many, but we are hopeful that increases to supply will help more people get access in the coming weeks. We want to assure everyone that Western’s Incident Management Team is working with the Council of Presidents to get our higher education employees appropriately placed in the upcoming vaccination phases. Once we have that designation in hand, we will be able to create a definitive roll-out plan for our own vaccine effort on campus.
I have been vaccinated but my spouse just tested positive. Do I still need to quarantine?
DH: Yes, you do. Vaccination does not change the quarantine requirements, and only prevents recipients from getting seriously ill from COVID. At this time, there is insufficient evidence whether the vaccination will prevent individuals from transmitting the disease to others, so all the quarantining and testing rules would apply.
Do I really need the second dose?
DH: Some protection may be conferred after a single dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna mRNA vaccines but this protection is far less than after two doses. The second dose acts as a booster which allows the immune system to better fight infection. All people should receive two doses of these vaccines.
How do I know the vaccine is safe?
DH: COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective, and were evaluated in tens of thousands of participants in clinical trials and meet the FDA’s rigorous scientific standards for safety, effectiveness, and manufacturing quality. Over the past two months, 52 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine were administered in the United States. These vaccines will undergo the most intensive safety monitoring in U.S. history. This monitoring includes using both established and new safety monitoring systems to make sure that COVID-19 vaccines are safe.
Can I still get COVID-19 or transmit the virus to others after I am vaccinated?
DH: Although COVID vaccines do not completely prevent infection, they do prevent the infection from spreading within the body and from causing serious disease. The vaccine is not 100% effective and we still do not know if someone who was vaccinated can develop asymptomatic infection and transmit the virus.
Is it possible to contract coronavirus from the vaccine itself?
DH: No, it is not possible to get Covid-19 from vaccines. Vaccines against SARS-CoV-2 use inactivated virus, parts of the virus (e.g., the spike protein), or a gene from the virus. None of these can cause Covid-19.
What are the differences between the vaccines currently available?
DH: Right now, both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccine have similar levels of efficacy and safety. The key differences for patients are that the Pfizer vaccine is approved for people aged 16 and up, whereas the Moderna vaccine is approved for people aged 18 and up. Additionally, the time you need to wait between the first and second dose is 21 days for Pfizer and 28 days for Moderna.
If I'm a student and have been vaccinated, will I still have to participate in the COVID testing program?
DH: Yes. Even though the student has been vaccinated, they could still become an asymptomatic carrier and transmit the virus. Our surveillance testing program at Fraser Hall allows us to identify those asymptomatic carriers and isolate them so the virus is not transmitted to others.
Will I still have to wear a mask after I get vaccinated?
DH: Until we substantially reduce community transmission of SARS-CoV-2, and see hospitalizations and deaths dramatically decrease, we still need to wear masks and practice physical distancing even after vaccination. The vaccine is not 100% effective and we still do not know if someone who was vaccinated can develop asymptomatic infection and transmit the virus.