5 Questions With Faculty: Vaccine Expert Edition

Vials of the COVID-19 vaccine placed side-by-side

ALBANY, N.Y. (April 1, 2021) – With all New Yorkers ages 16 and up eligible to receive the vaccine beginning on Tuesday, the University encourages everyone – faculty, staff and students - to get the vaccine as soon as they are able. You can visit the New York State vaccine website to register for an appointment at any state-run site and you can pre-register through the newly-created Capital Region Vaccine Equity Collaborative to be notified when appointments are available.

Because UAlbany had already set aside the space to stage a closed point of dispensing (CPOD) on its campus, Albany County has started to schedule small on-campus clinics reserved for members of the UAlbany community. The first CPOD was held at UAlbany on March 18 with about 500 doses administered to eligible UAlbany and Russell Sage College employees. That group will receive their second dose inside SEFCU Arena on April 15.

UAlbany will continue to hold CPODs for eligible students and employees when instructed by Albany County. Sign-up information will be sent directly to eligible students, faculty and staff members’ @albany.edu accounts.

Tomoko Udo and Eli Rosenberg, associate professors in the School of Public Health, answered a few questions to help us to better understand the importance of the vaccine.

How do we know the vaccine is safe?

ER: Vaccines for COVID-19 have gone through multiple layers of examination to ensure that they’re both effective against the virus and safe. Very large trials, involving tens of thousands of people, have been conducted. The data from these studies are published in peer-reviewed journals and independently analyzed by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The FDA then decides whether to authorize their use and an independent panel of scientists convened by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) determines how to most safely and effectively recommend their use. 

These vaccines have been developed in record time, in what is a modern medical miracle. Yet we recognize to some, this may feel “too fast” or rushed. Even after the rigorous process described above, governments and scientists around the world are continuing to study those who have been vaccinated to ensure their long-term safety. So far, the overwhelming majority of results tell us that these vaccines are safe and effective…and much more so than remaining unvaccinated and susceptible to COVID-19.

Why is getting the vaccine so important in achieving herd immunity?

ER: It’s important to note that vaccines can help us achieve two things. First, when you are vaccinated you receive a strong direct protection against COVID-19. Second, there is an indirect benefit that when you are vaccinated, you are less likely to transmit infection to others who are not protected by vaccines, and the level of infection in the community drops. When enough people in a community are vaccinated, say 75 percent (although it strongly depends on the virus), it provides a very high degree of protection to those unprotected persons and transmission become minimal. That’s the herd immunity we hope to achieve. 

It is important to point out that we don’t yet have all of the evidence about the degree to which the current approved COVID-19 vaccines provide this second indirect benefit, because it is challenging to study quickly. We know much more about the first issue: how the vaccines provide you, the person being vaccinated, with protection from illness. In a sense, this is actually more important than herd immunity. If we can get a high degree of the population vaccinated, we will still cut the amount of COVID-19 dramatically. 

The three available COVID-19 vaccines have different efficacy rates. Should we hold out for the highest rate or get the first one available?

ER: It is important to accept and take any approved vaccine, as soon as feasible. Although there is some variation in the protection among the current three approved types, they are all deemed effective and safe by the FDA and CDC. Because supply is limited, turning down one vaccine may mean risking being unprotected altogether while you wait for one perceived to be “better.” We are in a race against time to bring the pandemic under control. The more people who remain unvaccinated, the greater potential of spread, which brings with it more illness and the potential for the development of new strains that may be more resistant to our current vaccines or treatments. The science is clear – for your health and that of your community, taking any of the COVID-19 vaccines saves lives.

Once I’ve been vaccinated, do I still need to wear a mask and practice physical distancing?

TU: The answer at this point is a bit complicated and depends on the situation. The CDC recommends mask wearing and physical distancing in public spaces and also when you see unvaccinated individuals/households even if you are fully vaccinated. This is because the COVID-19 vaccines are not yet available to everyone, and as Eli mentioned, we have less information on how effective the vaccines are in preventing spread of the virus by asymptomatic individuals. 

The CDC, however, announced that individuals who are fully vaccinated for more than two weeks can interact without masks or physical distancing. If you are fully vaccinated, you can also see unvaccinated people from a single household if they are not at risk for severely getting sick from COVID-19 – this means, for example, no visit to your grandparents if they are not vaccinated.

I’ve heard the vaccine itself can make me sick. Is that true?

TU: The vaccine will not make you sick from COVID-19. 

You may experience some side effects from the vaccine, like you may from any other vaccines. Some of the common side effects include: pain and/or swelling on the arm where you got the shot, fatigue, headache, chills, fever and nausea. These are signs of your body working to build immunity. Some people have reported that the side effects were worse after the second shot. However, these symptoms should not last for more than a few days at the most. There have also been reports of severe allergic reaction to the COVID-19 vaccines; it is rare and not unique to COVID-19 vaccines. If you have shown allergic reaction to other vaccines in the past, you should talk to your health care provider before getting a COVID-19 vaccine.