COVID-19 Vaccination FAQs for Employees

Mobile COVID-19 vaccination clinic held in Olson involving may PLU nursing students and staff conducted by the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Dept. with Multicare, Thursday, Feb. 11, 2021, at PLU. (PLU Photo/John Froschauer)

Employee Vaccination Policy and General Questions

What is the vaccination policy for PLU employees?

We require COVID-19 vaccination for faculty and staff as well as students. This requirement is key to remaining a healthy and safe campus and consistent with public-health guidelines. Exemptions may be requested for medical reasons and religious beliefs, including right of conscience. 

The complete employee vaccination policy may be found here: PLU Employee COVID-19 Vaccination Policy.

Why is PLU requiring the COVID-19 vaccine for employees?

We are requiring the vaccination because the CDC states COVID-19 vaccines are effective at keeping you from getting sick and early data shows that vaccines help keep people with no symptoms from spreading COVID-19, but we are learning more as more people get vaccinated. We know that not everyone will agree with the requirement to be vaccinated.  However, it has become clear that for PLU to return to in person learning this fall, achieve our enrollment goals and serve our students fully, we must do this – and there is flexibility built into the policy with the exemption option.

Vaccinations protect our community. We believe that getting vaccinated is about providing our students with as “normal” a college experience as possible, as we care for other people and our communities, including our neighbors down the street and thousands of miles away. Additionally, mandatory vaccination will allow us to safely reopen all aspects of community life including the PLU on-campus experience. It will allow us to loosen some of the physical-distancing guidelines and activity restrictions and perhaps, in time, eliminate them.

Why did the decision to mandate vaccination come about now?

On May 21, the governor issued a new Healthy Washington Proclamation 20-15.13 requiring employers must obtain proof of vaccination or obtain a self-attestation from each employee, certifying their fully vaccinated status, before the employee may work at a worksite without wearing a mask.

We also learned the same week that the Washington State Department of Health is finalizing guidance for Higher Education which makes it clear that only campuses with a vaccination requirement for students, faculty and staff will be allowed to eliminate physical distancing and other mitigation requirements this summer and fall.

As a result of these two important developments, and in order for PLU to return to anything resembling a normal in-person campus environment this fall, the decision to mandate employee vaccination was made.

Who is eligible to be vaccinated?

Everyone over the age of 12 in the United States is eligible to be vaccinated as of May 12, 2021. Each state has its own vaccine supply and determines its distribution process. You can find Pierce County’s mass vaccine event registration website at FindYourCovidShot.com, which is updated as events are added.

When do employees need to be fully vaccinated by?

Employees new to PLU are required to be fully vaccinated or submit an exemption during their first 90 days of employment. To comply with the most recent proclamation from Governor Inslee, current employees need to be fully vaccinated or have an approved exemption on or before October 18, 2021.

What does it mean to be “fully” vaccinated?

Public-health officials consider an individual to be fully vaccinated two weeks after their final dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, so the dates vary depending on the vaccine.)

How do I prove I have been vaccinated?

If you are fully vaccinated, you can access the attestation here. If you are not yet fully vaccinated, bookmark this page and/or check the COVID-19 site for access to the form when you do achieve that status, so you can update the information.

Will there be any exemptions to the vaccination requirement?

There are two permitted exemptions to PLU’s vaccination requirement:

Medical: A medical exemption will be made for employees for whom receiving the COVID-19 vaccination is medically inadvisable. Employees must provide a statement, signed by a physician,which states that in the physician’s opinion, the vaccination required would be injurious to the employee’s health and well-being.

Religious: Employees must provide a written, signed waiver stating that they decline the vaccination for religious beliefs.

How do I schedule a vaccination appointment?

Vaccinations are readily available throughout Pierce County and Western Washington. You can use this tool to locate your closest vaccine appointment in Washington.

Is PLU the only university requiring vaccinations for students?

No. Although PLU was one of the first universities in Washington to require vaccinations for students, we were quickly joined by the University of Washington, Western Washington University,  Central Washington University, and Whitman University. More universities across Washington and the United States are expanding COVID-19 to their inoculation requirements daily, both locally and nationally. As of August 2021, over 600 colleges and universities and numerous businesses have moved to require vaccines in response to an expanding number of COVID variants creating new infection surges. Furthermore, the American College Health Association, an organization dedicated to college student health, supports mandatory vaccination requirements as the best and most consistent mitigation strategy available to college campuses.

Who on campus will know if I’ve been vaccinated or not?

To ensure that we can all be confident in our individual and collective safety, department heads will be provided with a list of individuals who are permitted to work without facial coverings or physical-distancing requirements. This information will be continuously updated as employees complete the attestation.

Do I need to be vaccinated if I have already had COVID-19?

Yes. Anyone who previously had COVID-19 will still be required to be vaccinated.

Vaccination can begin once you are recovered from symptomatic COVID or once you leave isolation after asymptomatic infection or quarantine after exposure. At this time, the CDC recommendation for those who were treated with monoclonal antibodies or convalescent plasma is to defer vaccination for at least 90 days. If this applies to you, medical documentation should be submitted with a request for temporary exemption.

What will the restrictions be on campus for folks who have not been fully vaccinated?

Employees with a vaccine exemption will be expected to continue complying with the following mitigation measures:

  • Masking in all indoor spaces, unless alone in an office with the door closed.
  • Masking in all outdoor group settings where physical distancing is not possible.
  • Quarantine for 10-14 days if exposed to a positive COVID case identified as a close contact.
  • Testing will be required on a weekly basis. 

CDC and public health recommendations may allow us to change some of these requirements by September. Please pay attention to PLU communications over the coming months.

Information about the vaccine

Which vaccines are authorized in the United States?

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has authorized three vaccines for emergency use to prevent COVID-19. These vaccines are Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, and Jansen/Johnson & Johnson. In addition, the World Health Organization (WHO) placed Astrazeneca-SK Bio and Serum Institute of India vaccines on their Emergency Use Listing; these vaccines will be accepted for students arriving from outside the United States.

Key things to know:

Side-by-Side Comparison: COVID-19 Vaccine (National Jewish Health)

For more information, click Key Things to Know About COVID-19 Vaccines on the CDC webpage.

If I'm pregnant or considering pregnancy, can I get the COVID-19 vaccine?

Here are links to the CDC and the Harvard Health Blog that should help answer your pregnancy-related questions about the vaccine.

What is the complete list of ingredients currently utilized in the various vaccines?

Do the COVID-19 vaccines contain aborted fetal cells or traces of human DNA?

The Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines do not contain any aborted fetal cells or human DNA. The J&J vaccine was developed from fetal retinal cells, but these are destroyed or washed out of the final vaccine product. mRNA vaccines teach our cells how to make a protein—or even just a piece of a protein—that triggers an immune response inside our bodies. They do not affect or interact with our DNA in any way. mRNA never enters the nucleus of the cell, which is where our DNA (genetic material) is kept. The cell breaks down and gets rid of the mRNA soon after it is finished using the “instructions” the mRNA provides.

PLU COVID-19 Vaccination Policy (Employees)

Read the full vaccination policy on the Human Resources webpage.

Vaccination Verification Form (Employees)

Fill out this form to attest that you have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

COVID-19 Vaccine Medical Exemption Request (Employees)

COVID-19 Vaccine Religious Exemption Form (Employees)

Social Implications

How are people of color expected to mend the divide with healthcare professionals from past trauma?

We acknowledge and hold the harm and accompanying generational trauma that crimes like the Tuskegee Study have created, and recognize the ongoing mistrust that is rooted in those generational experiences. That said, we have not experienced a global pandemic like this before. Addressing a challenge of this size, scope, and impact requires the involvement, expertise, and wisdom of all communities, including those who have been directly affected by present and historical inequities.What is hopeful and different about this vaccination effort is that many people of color have been directly involved in the development of and ongoing research and decisions related to the administration of the COVID-19 vaccines.

Unlike Tuskegee, Black scientists had a major role in the development of both vaccines.

Two examples: Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett, who self-identifies as an African American woman, is praised as a key scientist behind the development of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine. Dr. James E. K. Hildreth is a Black immunologist who serves on the FDA committee that authorized both Pfizer’s and Moderna’s shots for emergency use in the U.S.: “Tuskegee was horrible,” he says. “This is nothing like Tuskegee, because we [Black scientists] have been involved at every level of developing the vaccine from the beginning. The scientists who were involved in creating it to the ones involved in approving it, we’ve been involved at every level, at all phases.”

Additionally, all three vaccines purposefully included diverse panels of clinical participants, chosen by race, age, gender, and other salient identities. COVID-19 is affecting everyone in the U.S., so the organizers of clinical trials sought to ensure that their participants reflected that fact. The FDA authorized all three of the present vaccines to be used in the United States. The FDA regulates almost everything in the U.S. food and drug supply. Individuals do have the right to utilize two forms of exemption – medical and religious/right of conscience.

Did PLU take into account the marginalized communities when making the decision to mandate the vaccine?

Yes, our decision was framed by national and regional data about the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 that marginalized communities are experiencing, as well as the loss of family members that Lute members of our community have directly experienced. Additionally, we have been consulting leaders and resources from PLU’s partner organizations in the local community that serve marginalized communities directly, e.g., the Asia Pacific Cultural Center in Tacoma, Puyallup Tribe/Puyallup Tribal Health Authority, the Tacoma Urban League, Tacoma Community House, and others, and have followed their lead. Many of these partners have been leaders in local vaccination efforts. (Our neighboring tribal communities have been outpacing broader public vaccine distribution. For example,the Puyallup Tribe of Indians has been doing some fantastic work.) Earlier this year, we also formed a partnership with the Tacoma–Pierce County Health Department’s Equity Access Network to host clinics that serve BIPOC, LGBTQ+, and rural communities, in order to offset disparities in health outcomes.

As a person/member of a community of color, should I have concerns about the rapid development and authorization to vaccinate people with a non-FDA-approved vaccine?

Some communities, particularly communities of color, may have historical reasons to doubt the healthcare system. But these communities have also been among the hardest hit by this pandemic, and like all of us, have a lot to gain from vaccination.

If you still have doubts about the vaccine, we recommend this short video produced by the Black Women’s Health Imperative. The Black Women’s Health Imperative is a national organization dedicated to improving the health and wellness of Black women and girls.

Transmission

Can COVID-19 still be spread from a person who is fully vaccinated?

New research about the Delta variant of COVID 19 confirms that in the strong majority of cases the vaccine prevents fully vaccinated individuals from experiencing serious illness or hospitalization, but that the viral load that they carry may be very similar to unvaccinated individuals. In response to this learning, the CDC has recommended that all individuals mask indoors when the vaccination status of others in the space is unknown.

Do the various variants increase transmission among vaccinated individuals?

The Delta variants that currently are circulating in the United States and around the world are more transmissible than prior variants and have led to masking recommendations from the CDC for both vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals.

Why are healthy employees who are not at higher risk expected to receive the vaccine if transmission is not reduced by it?

In the case of most variants transmission is reduced by vaccination. While this is not true for the Delta variant that is currently circulating, vaccination does significantly reduce the likelihood of serious illness or hospitalization from COVID, assisting to keep community health resources available for a broader range of issues and generally keeping the community healthier. As older and more vulnerable people have been vaccinated,the virus has moved on to younger groups of people. The group now most likely to experience severe symptoms and be hospitalized is the age group that includes otherwise healthy college students.

Effectiveness and immunity

How long do the vaccines remain effective against COVID-19?

Current research suggests that immunity lasts for at least six months and possibly up to a year. This body of research also suggests that annual booster doses of vaccine will probably be needed.

Why are people who already had COVID-19 expected to receive a vaccine?

People should get vaccinated, regardless of whether they have already had COVID-19. That’s because experts do not yet know how long people are protected from getting sick again after recovering from COVID-19. The current view is that natural infection provides about 90 days of immunity. However, even if someone has already recovered from COVID-19, it is possible that beyond those 90 days, they could be infected with the virus again. Learn more from the CDC about why getting vaccinated is a safer way to build protection than getting infected.

Will people be required to receive a booster shot in the future?

Current research indicates that annual boosters against COVID-19 will likely be required.

Effects

What are all the potential side effects of the vaccines—reparable and irreparable, short-, medium-,and long-term?

Immediate, short-lived side effects are common with all the COVID-19 vaccines. These include soreness at the injection site, low-grade fever, sore muscles, and general fatigue, usually lasting no more than one to three days. The second dose of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines can trigger a slightly more significant effect, but that is also short-lived. Medium- and long-term side effects to these vaccines are not known at this time, but scientists have been studying vaccines and monitoring their side effects for several decades. The occurrence of long-term side effects is extremely rare and is the reason we continue to use long-standing vaccines like those for MMR and polio. A better comparison for the COVID-19 vaccines might be made to the annual flu shot, which is developed on an annual basis depending on the most common flu virus circulating that year. The flu vaccine is developed and approved quickly,and has an excellent safety record.

What are the long-term effects of vaccines (one/two years after administration), especially considering the new mRNA technology?

We don’t have the answers to this question yet, because these are the first FDA-authorized mRNA vaccines. However, mRNA vaccines have been in development for 30 years, which is what allowed the relatively rapid development of effective vaccines specific to COVID-19. For a more detailed explanation, read this article from Harvard Medical School.

Are severe side effects such as blood clots common or expected?

The FDA amended the emergency-use authorization of the Johnson & Johnson (Janssen) COVID-19 vaccine to include information about a very rare and serious type of blood clot that can occur in people who receive the vaccine. See the FDA’s Janssen COVID-19 Vaccine Frequently Asked Questions for more information.

Testing

Can we attest that all the medical parameters concerning studies and tests have been adequately satisfied?

Yes, the vaccines would not have received emergency-use authorization if this were not the case. Vaccine research is a long-standing body of research, and the development of these vaccines was based on a strong foundation of prior research and understanding of how vaccines work against viruses. mRNA vaccines have been held to the same rigorous safety and effectiveness standards as all other types of vaccines in the United States. The only COVID-19 vaccines the Food and Drug Administration(FDA) will make available for use in the United States (by approval or emergency-use authorization) are those that meet these standards.

Ingredients

What is the complete list of ingredients currently utilized in the various vaccines?

Do the COVID-19 vaccines contain aborted fetal cells or traces of human DNA?

The Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines do not contain any aborted fetal cells or human DNA. The J&J vaccine was developed from fetal retinal cells, but these are destroyed or washed out of the final vaccine product. mRNA vaccines teach our cells how to make a protein—or even just a piece of a protein—that triggers an immune response inside our bodies. They do not affect or interact with our DNA in any way. mRNAnever enters the nucleus of the cell, which is where our DNA (genetic material) is kept. The cell breaks down and gets rid of the mRNA soon after it is finished using the “instructions” the mRNA provides.

Planning

What was the rationale behind mandating a vaccine when there are still so many unanswered questions about it?

Over 500,000 people have died from COVID-19 in the U.S. alone. Tens of thousands of new coronavirus cases continue to emerge on college campuses. A New York Times survey of more than 1,800 American colleges and universities—including every four-year public institution and every private college that competes in NCAA sports—has revealed more than 397,000 cases since the pandemic began.

Were any alternative options explored instead of a mandatory vaccine?

Yes, we evaluated what it would take to continue extensive mitigation measures on campus and their impact on students, staff, and faculty. However, it was clear that if we returned to campus without mandatory vaccination for all of our campus community members, it would not be feasible to continue delivering those measures at the scale required.

Are vaccinated employees still required to wear masks and socially distance on campus?

With the spread of the Delta variant, the CDC has changed its recommendations regarding masking indoors for fully vaccinated individuals. As of August 2021, fully vaccinated individuals are strongly recommended to mask in public indoor spaces and in indoor spaces where the vaccination status of others is unknown.

Reporting

Where and how should a person report a vaccine-related injury?

They should report the injury to and through their medical provider, who would share that information with local public-health authorities and the CDC. There is also an efficient way to report side effects directly to the CDC through the V-Safe reporting system.

Will an individual be compensated for any vaccine-related injuries?

The Countermeasures Injury Compensation Program (CICP) is a federal program that may help pay for costs of medical care and other specific expenses of certain people who have been seriously injured by certain medicines or vaccines, including this vaccine. Generally, a claim must be submitted to theCICP within one (1) year from the date of receiving the vaccine in question. To learn more about this program, visit www.hrsa.gov/cicp/ or call 1-855-266-2427.