Summer! The best time of year—play time, vacation and easier schedules for most of us. But in among all that recreation, keep an eye out for safety, so you can keep the fun coming. First and foremost, experts agree, get…
Six Questions for Dr. Karen Nardella on COVID-19 Vaccines
Seeking helpful information about the COVID-19 vaccines, SU News reached out to Barnes Center at The Arch Medical Director Dr. Karen Nardella.
Dr. Nardella shared her answers to our questions on April 12—the day before federal health officials called for a pause in the use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
So, Dr. Nardella did what she and the rest of the University’s Public Health Team have done all year: She remained nimble and waited for more information and guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) before updating her answers. Following a thorough safety review, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and CDC determined that the recommended pause regarding the use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine in the U.S. should be lifted and use of the vaccine should resume, according to a CDC release April 23.
Dr. Nardella shares the most up-to-date information about the safety and efficacy of the vaccines:
Q: As of June 1, Syracuse University will require a COVID-19 vaccination for all students, faculty and staff who access campus over the summer months. All new and returning students as well as faculty and staff will be required to be vaccinated prior to the Fall 2021 semester. Why is it so important that all students as well as faculty and staff receive a COVID-19 vaccination?
A: The main reason is because in order to prevent death and hospitalizations and move back to a sense of normalcy in this country, we need to have herd immunity, which is not going to happen until at least 80 or 90 percent of the people have the vaccine or a recent COVID-19 infection. If you don’t have herd immunity, then the virus will continue to circulate and more variants will emerge and we will continue to have COVID and restrictions on our activities.
Q: Are the vaccines safe?
A: The vaccines are very safe, and no adverse events have been seen apart from the rare blood clots after the Johnson & Johnson vaccine (there were a reported six U.S. cases of a rare and severe type of blood clot among more than 7 million people who received the shot). The technology behind these vaccines is not new and all the correct protocols with vaccine trials were followed.
Q: With the pause being lifted, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine will continue to require only one shot. Does that make it less effective than the Pfizer and Moderna two-shot vaccines?
A: No, one shot versus two shots doesn’t impact the effectiveness at all. It’s just a different type of vaccine. There are some questions about the overall effectiveness of the Johnson & Johnson versus the other two vaccines, but it’s not because it’s one shot versus two shots.
The studies on the Johnson & Johnson vaccine were done worldwide when different variants were circulating, whereas the studies for Moderna and Pfizer were done in this country when there was just one variant. They have similar effectiveness for preventing severe disease and death, and that’s the most important part.
Q: How long after my shot(s) does it take before I am fully vaccinated, and how long will I stay vaccinated before I need a booster shot?
A: You’re considered fully vaccinated two weeks after your Johnson & Johnson shot, and two weeks after the second dose of Pfizer and Moderna. At this point, there aren’t any boosters, but all of these companies are researching and developing boosters because we know that the coronavirus is like the flu virus in that it mutates fairly frequently, and so in order to keep up with the variants it may be that every year we’ll need an annual shot because of that. At this point it is not clear when we will get a booster shot but we do know that the current Pfizer vaccine lasts for at least six months.
Q: Do I still need to follow safety measures such as masking and social distancing when I am fully vaccinated?
A: The current recommendation from the CDC is that if you are fully vaccinated, you can gather with another household of people who are also fully vaccinated. You can also gather with another household who may not be vaccinated but who are at low risk for severe disease. The CDC still recommends that if you have someone who is at risk for severe disease, either elderly or with underlying health conditions, you still wear a mask if you are gathering indoors with them.
You can travel without quarantining upon return if you are fully vaccinated. However, it is still important to avoid medium and large gatherings, and it’s still important to wear a mask in public because not everyone is vaccinated. We do not have herd immunity and there are variants circulating and if you do not take these measures the variants can spread.
Q: The weather is getting warmer, and I would like to go out to eat. Can I do that?
A: Indoor dining remains one of the highest risk activities, unfortunately. If you have a lot of people in a community who are not vaccinated, there is a chance you may be exposed to COVID-19. The good thing is that it’s spring and summer will be here soon and most places have developed an option to eat outside, which is much safer.
For more information about Syracuse University’s vaccine requirements and response to the pandemic, please visit the Stay Safe webpage and the Frequently Asked Questions webpage. The Office of Human Resources is asking faculty and staff to complete a brief COVID-19 Vaccine Status Attestation Questionnaire to confirm their vaccination status. Faculty and staff can also use the form to claim exemption from this requirement for medical or sincerely held religious reasons.