Campus Experts Answer Key Questions About COVID-19 Immunization

Assoc. Dean of Health Sciences Nicole Champagne talks to nursing students getting ready to give vaccine at Lowell General Hospital's vaccination clinic Image by Tory Wesnofske
Assoc. Dean of Health Sciences Nicole Champagne talks to nursing students getting ready to give shots at Lowell General Hospital's mass vaccination clinic.


Will the COVID-19 vaccine make me sick? If I’m vaccinated, can I still get the virus and spread it to others? Can I ditch the mask after I get my shots? These are some of the common questions bubbling up about the coronavirus vaccines.

With the state of Massachusetts opening up vaccinations to all residents ages 16 and over on April 19, our faculty experts, who have been researching and carefully following the pandemic for the past year, answer these questions and others.

Q. I heard the vaccines were rushed through approval. Are they really safe?

A. Shortie McKinney, dean of the Zuckerberg College of Health Sciences: The COVID vaccines had to meet the same rigorous scientific standards as previous vaccines. The FDA used their usual process and criteria. The vaccines were given emergency use authorization due to the high public health concerns about COVID-19 and the need to get vaccines distributed as soon as possible during this public health emergency. All three vaccines have proven to be effective against COVID, and the companies expect that once all data is reviewed, the status of the vaccines will move to full authorization.

Assoc. Vice Chancellor Julie Chen and her wife, Susu Wong, get vaccinated by Nursing Prof. Lisa Abdallah, who volunteers at Lowell General Hospital's vaccination clinic Image by Patti McCafferty
Vice Chancellor Julie Chen, left, and her wife, Susu Wong, get vaccinated by UML Nursing Prof. Lisa Abdallah, who volunteers at Lowell General Hospital's mass vaccination clinic.

Q. Which vaccine is the best?

A. Tim Ford, chair of Biomedical and Nutritional Sciences: We cannot say that one vaccine is better than another at this point, because prevention of hospitalization and death is key – and for these outcomes, they are equal. All three vaccines in use in the United States – Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson – have been shown to be highly effective, preventing severe cases of COVID-19 resulting in hospitalization and death during clinical trials.

Since the start of mass vaccination, a few “breakthrough” cases of severe illness have been reported, but fewer than one in 1 million people have died of COVID-19 after being vaccinated. No vaccine is 100 percent effective, but this is much better odds than going without the vaccine.

All vaccines carry a slight risk of serious side effects, and, as with the AstraZeneca vaccine, there may be a very small risk of blood clots with the J&J vaccine – but again, fewer than one in 1 million cases have been reported, so the benefits appear to far outweigh the risk of serious illness or death from COVID-19. It makes sense for regulators to pause the J&J vaccine’s use while scientists further evaluate these reports. However, I hope that if the risk remains this low, regulators will again allow use of the J&J vaccine, which requires only normal refrigeration and a single dose, and thus is especially useful for reaching underserved populations.

Q. What are the chances I’ll get sick after getting a shot?

A. Heidi Fantasia, chair of Solomont School of Nursing: There are some common side effects that can occur after COVID-19 vaccination. These include soreness at the site of the injection, feeling tired and achy, a headache and possibly a low-grade fever. None of these symptoms mean that you are ill or infected with COVID. They are a reaction of your immune system as it builds up a response to the virus, so that you are much less likely to get a future COVID infection. If you get any of these symptoms, they usually clear up within 24 hours.

A young woman after getting a COVID-19 vaccine Image by Aja Koska/Getty Images
Starting April 19, anyone living in Massachusetts who's 16 or older can get vaccinated against COVID-19.

Q. Can vaccinated people still carry COVID-19?

A. Nicole Champagne, associate dean of health sciences: There’s quite a bit of scientific evidence that fully vaccinated people are less likely to be infected with COVID-19 – and because of that, they’re probably less likely to infect other people. But we still don’t have a definite answer to this question, and the research is continuing. It’s important for everyone to remember that scientists are still learning a lot about the virus, and we should all stay tuned for new information as it emerges.

Q. Why should I get the vaccine if I will still have to wear a mask and practice social distancing?

A. Paulette Renault-Caragianes, associate dean of student affairs, health and wellness: We will still need to engage in risk-reduction measures until the majority of the population in the U.S. is fully vaccinated, so people should get vaccinated as soon as they’re able. Even with the tremendous strides we are making now, we are still a bit away from that landmark.

Chancellor Jacquie Moloney with nursing students
Chancellor Jacquie Moloney, second from left, received her vaccine at Lowell General's vaccine site where she met UML students, from left, Jordan Lippincott, Emily Medina and Alexis Mejia.

A very important positive impact of being vaccinated is that, according to current CDC guidance, those who are fully vaccinated — two weeks after administration of a single dose vaccine or two weeks after the second dose of the two-stage vaccines — are not required to quarantine should they be identified as a contact of someone with COVID-19.

Q. Will I have to get a vaccine every year?

A. Dan Berlowitz, chair of Public Health: No one knows for sure, but it seems likely. There are three questions we need to consider:

1) Will the virus continue to circulate, or might it disappear? Most experts think that it will continue to circulate.

2) How long will the vaccine boost our immunity? There is not enough long-term data to know this yet.

3) Will there be more variants of the virus, and will the vaccine work against these newer strains? Again, we don’t know if there will be more variants, but it seems likely. In that case, researchers could develop an annual shot to protect against these newer strains, just as they do every year for the flu. I wouldn’t be surprised if we end up discovering that periodic shots are needed to maintain protection.