December 16, 2020: Public Health Update

From: Tom McLarney, MD

Date: December 16, 2020

Subject: Public Health Update

To our Wesleyan community,

Congratulations on completing the semester, whether it was at home, on campus, or a combination of both. It was a job done well on all accounts, from completing your rigorous academics to living in the new normal defined by COVID-19 and adhering to guidelines, rules, and regulations to keep everyone safe.

I cannot overemphasize the magnitude of this past week’s news: The Pfizer vaccine has been granted Emergency Use Authorization (EUA). As I write this advisory, shipments of this vaccine are being delivered across the U.S.

In my last advisory, I reviewed the new technology of using synthetic messenger RNA (m-RNA) to stimulate the immune system to protect us from SARS CoV-2. The initial studies demonstrate an efficacy up to 95% and a very promising safety record. Monitoring of safety will continue during the widespread use of the vaccine. Soon other vaccines will receive FDA approval, including the Moderna vaccine (also an m-RNA vaccine).

Below are some frequently asked questions regarding the vaccine and COVID-19.

1) How long does protection from COVID-19 last?

At this time, it is unknown how long immunity will last in someone who either had COVID-19 or received the SARS CoV-2 vaccine. Based on some initial data, natural immunity (in those who actually contracted COVID-19) may last 6 to 8 months. There have been a small number of folks with reinfection with COVID-19. As time progresses, we will have more knowledge regarding the duration of both natural and vaccine-induced immunity.

2) Can I get COVID-19 from the vaccine?

Since the vaccine is produced using synthetic messenger RNA and not the actual virus, one cannot contract COVID-19 from the vaccine. I also need to make it clear that vaccines for other diseases in which weakened viruses are used very rarely will cause the disease they are protecting us from.

3) Will the vaccine cause me to have a positive COVID-19 test?

It will not cause a positive PCR test (such as the nasal swab we do on campus). This test picks up the actual genetic material from the SARS CoV-2 virus.

One should test positive for antibodies against the SARS CoV-2 virus at some point after receiving the vaccine. Ongoing research will monitor the formation of these antibodies and how long they persist.

4) I have had COVID-19. Do I need to get the vaccine?

Due to the uncertainty of how long natural immunity persists and the potential severe disease that this virus can cause, most experts are advising folks who have had COVID-19 to get immunized. Again, studies are ongoing. How long after one has had COVID-19 should one be vaccinated? To be determined.

5) How many shots do I need?

Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines require two injections (for Pfizer’s vaccine, the two injections are spaced three weeks apart; for Moderna’s vaccine, the two injections are spaced four weeks apart). It is felt that maximal immunity will be attained two weeks after the second injection.

6) If I receive one vaccine, do I need to stick with the same company for the second injection?

Yes. If you start with Pfizer’s vaccine, you must stay with Pfizer for the second injection. If you start with Moderna’s vaccine, you must stay with Moderna for the second injection.

7) Once I receive my two immunizations, where can I donate my face coverings, and when can I have a big party with my friends and family?

Keep your face coverings (and continue to use them) and do not plan any parties. You can still be exposed to COVID-19, carry the virus in your respiratory tract, and potentially infect others even if you are protected immunologically. Also, the vaccine is 95% effective—not 100%. With many millions of people being vaccinated, 5% of that number is still a lot of people who may not be adequately protected. The practices of wearing face coverings, maintaining 6-foot distancing, avoiding large groups, and being diligent about washing hands are just as important now as ever. This vaccine is a major battle that we will most certainly win … but we will need time to win the war.

8) What side effects have been reported from the vaccine?

Side effects are a good indication that our immune system is responding to the vaccine. Expect muscle aches, headache, low-grade fever, soreness/redness at the injection site, and fatigue. Initial trials showed that these are mild and last 24 hours or so.

9) I am pregnant. Can I receive the vaccine?

This is still to be determined. Studies are ongoing for pregnant and breastfeeding women, as well as for children under the age of 16.

10) Do you have a source for more information as it becomes available?

Visit This site has FAQs addressing more details of COVID-19 vaccination, and it is being updated on a regular basis.

In closing, I would like to assure you that that the University’s Pandemic Planning Committee will review protocols on administering the vaccine if it is made available before the spring semester ends. In addition, the University will continue its efforts to maintain a safe and healthy working and learning environment—adhering to our protocols for frequent testing, contact tracing, disinfecting of surfaces, and requiring compliance with safety guidelines—as the community comes back together for the spring semester. In the meantime, continue to wear your face coverings, maintain social distancing, avoid large groups, and be diligent about hand-washing.

Wishing you all a restful winter break, wonderful holidays, and a happy, healthy, and safe 2021.

Tom McLarney, MD