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COVID-19 Vaccine Basics

Dr. Guy Palmer is the Senior Director of Global Health at the Paul G. Allen School of Global Animal Health at Washington State University. Dr. Palmer answers questions from the public about viruses and the Covid-19 vaccines.

Related FAQs

Should I continue to wear a face mask in light of CDC’s May 13 guidance?

On May 13, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that individuals who are fully vaccinated can resume indoor and outdoor activities without a face mask or physically distancing. Doing so must be in compliance with federal, state, local, tribal or territorial laws, rules and regulations, including local business and workplace guidance.

WSU recently updated its mask and social distancing policies to reflect the latest guidance from the CDC, the state Department of Health, and the Department of Labor and Industries.

Any WSU employees, students, or visitors who wish to no longer wear a facial covering or distance while on a WSU location will be required to provide proof of being fully vaccinated for COVID‑19, defined as two weeks after the last shot in a vaccine series. More information is available on the COVID-19 website.

Those who are not fully vaccinated should continue to take steps to protect themselves and others.

Updated May 26

Will WSU allow exemptions to the COVID-19 vaccination requirement?

Yes. Personal, medical and religious belief exemption requests will be allowed. Those who receive exemptions may be subject to COVID-19 testing and/or other COVID-19 public health measures. More information, including how to submit proof of vaccination or an exemption, will be communicated prior to the start of the fall semester.

When is the deadline to submit proof of vaccination or have a granted exemption?

All WSU students must submit proof of vaccination or an approved exemption by Nov. 1, 2021. However, some programs may designate an earlier date for proof of vaccination or exemption based on when fall semester in-person activities begin.

For students living in university-owned housing on the WSU Pullman campus, proof of vaccination or an approved exemption must be supplied by Aug. 6, 2021. The university retains discretion to modify housing assignments to protect the community’s health and safety.

Students can now upload proof of COVID-19 vaccination or medical exemptions through the Cougar Health patient portal. The process for applying for a COVID-19 vaccination exemption for personal or religious reasons will be available in July.

Updated June 1

Which COVID-19 vaccines are acceptable under WSU’s requirement?

WSU will accept any vaccine currently approved by the World Health Organization under their Emergency Use Listing/Prequalification process. There are currently six such vaccines which qualify, including the three vaccines widely available in the US. Students and employees who are unable to be fully vaccinated prior to returning to WSU will be provided assistance in locating resources.

Are vaccines received outside the United States acceptable?

Vaccines that are received outside of the United States are only acceptable if they are listed on the World Health Organization’s Emergency Use List, which is available online.

What is WSU’s COVID-19 vaccination policy?

WSU is requiring all students engaging in activities at a WSU campus or location during the 2021-2022 academic year show proof of COVID-19 vaccination. This policy also extends to all employees and volunteers engaging in activities at a WSU worksite.

A previous diagnosis of COVID-19 will not exempt people from the vaccination requirement.

Exemptions for medical, religious and personal reasons will be allowed.

Information about how to submit proof of vaccination as well as the process to request an exemption will be communicated prior to the start of the fall 2021 semester.  WSU will work with any international students and employees who may have received a vaccine that is not approved for use in the United States.

More information can be found in President Kirk Schulz’s April 28 letter to the WSU community.

When will vaccine eligibility open up to more people?

Beginning April 15, all Washington residents over the age of 16 will be eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.

The easiest way to find a place where vaccine appointments can be made is by visiting Vaccine Locator. Simply entering a Zip code yields a list of vaccination sites within 50 miles.

Why should I get vaccinated for COVID-19?

The reason to be vaccinated is first and foremost to protect yourself against severe disease, hospitalization, and in the most tragic cases, death. But it also protects your loved ones, your family, and your colleagues. When you are vaccinated, you’re much less likely to transmit the infection to those around you. And on a larger scale, when we all get vaccinated, that’s how we can get to the end of the pandemic because it will eliminate the infection continuing to circulate through the population.

Are COVID-19 vaccines safe?

COVID-19 vaccines are absolutely safe. They have gone through all the necessary steps for the Food and Drug Administration to evaluate the clinical trials and approve them as being safe and effective. The reason we’ve been able to make such rapid progress isn’t because we’ve skipped any steps. It’s because we have decades of knowledge of how to create vaccines. We were able to very quickly identify the target that makes a vaccine effective. And because the pandemic had so many cases spreading so quickly, we were able to show that those who are vaccinated versus those who got the placebo were effectively protected against the infection.

Which COVID-19 vaccine should I get, and why do some require one shot while others two?

All three of the FDA approved vaccines, Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson-Johnson are effective in preventing disease. The efficacy, that is ability to prevent infection, differs very slightly, but in their ability to protect against disease, they’re all essentially equal. The difference between the one and two dose vaccines is although they all address the same target of the virus, they’re slightly different in their composition, but in the end, they’re all equally effective.

Do I need to get a vaccine if I have already had COVID-19?

If you’ve already had COVID-19, you should get a booster immunization. The reason for that is when you’ve had a natural infection, there’s a whole range of responses in terms of your immunity, from very weak to very strong, but there’s no way to know what you have as an individual. By having a booster immunization after having had COVID-19, the data clearly shows that it brings you up to a level where we’re confident you will be protected against further disease due to COVID-19.

Can I get the COVID-19 vaccine if I have allergies or have an immune-suppressed system?

The approved vaccines are safe for individuals with allergies. If you’ve had a previous allergic reaction to a vaccine, you will be asked after your vaccination to stay for 30 minutes for observation by a health care provider. Those without a history of allergic reactions are asked to stay for 15 minutes, just to observe that they’re not having any what’s called anaphylactic shock, as a result of the vaccination.

For individuals who are immunocompromised, the vaccine has been shown to be effective, including for those who are living with HIV. However, because the level or degree of being immunocompromised varies among individuals, it’s best to check with your specific healthcare provider prior to vaccination.

How do I know if I’m eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine?

The best way to know when and where to get your vaccine is to go to Vaccine Locator. If you put your zip code into the Vaccine Locator, it will tell you when you’re eligible for a vaccine and where to obtain that vaccine.

Can children get the COVID-19 vaccine?

Currently, vaccines are available only for people over the age of 16. Adolescents between ages 12 and 16 are currently enrolled in clinical trials to ensure that the vaccine is equally safe and effective for them as it is in adults. Younger children cannot get the vaccine at present, although the additional studies for children 5 years of age and older are being planned. But I want to emphasize that if we vaccinate our adult population and our adolescent population, we will protect younger children by controlling the virus in our general population.

What is the difference between the different manufacturers of the vaccine?

All three FDA approved vaccines are focused on the same component of the virus. That is, the spike protein. If you think of the spike protein as a key that fits into a lock, the viral key fitting into the lock on the human cell, all three vaccines focus on developing an immune response against that key that blocks it from getting into the cell. The way they do it is slightly different. The Johnson and Johnson vaccine uses what’s called a DNA approach. Pfizer and Moderna use a RNA approach, but both of them give you the same result: an immune response against this critical part of the virus that is responsible for infection.

What is a vaccine?

Vaccines are a way to train the body to recognize a virus or any type of microbe at the earliest points of infection. So rather than waiting for your natural immune response to recognize that you’re been infected, that you’re getting sick and responding, it basically jump starts that process. Vaccination with a small non-infectious part of the virus trains the immune response to be ready when it actually encounters the actual infectious virus.

Does the vaccine change my DNA?

The vaccine does not change your DNA or any part of your genetic code. What it does is it trains your immune response, which is a normal part of the way your body functions, to recognize the virus at the earliest possible stages following exposure.

How does your body use a vaccine to combat a threat like COVID-19?

The simplest way to think of how a vaccine and your immune response that it generates, works is to think of this analogy of a key and a lock. The virus binds to your cell and enters the same way that a key would enter a lock. What the vaccine does is actually induces antibodies, which are natural component of your body, to block that. So it just blocks that key from fitting into the lock. So by being vaccinated, when you actually are exposed to the real virus, it can’t get into the cells. And when a virus cannot get into a human cell, it can no longer infect you.

How does your body know to differentiate between a vaccine and the virus?

In a way the body doesn’t actually discriminate between them. What it does is it jump starts that process so that you’ve got this immune response at the moment the actual virus comes. So we use a small non-infectious part of the virus, if you will, to train the body to recognize the actual virus.

What are the known side effects of the COVID-19 vaccines?

Most individuals will have no other effects after vaccination besides perhaps a slightly sore arm that lasts for 24 to 48 hours. There are some individuals who for the next day or two may have feeling as of a fever, a headache, or may just not feel themselves for a little bit. That’s your body normally reacting, and those feelings will pass.

Related Videos

Are The COVID-19 Vaccines Safe?

I’ve Received The COVID-19 Vaccine. Now What?

How Do Vaccines Work?

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