COVID-19 Vaccination FAQs for Students

PLU's COVID-19 Vaccination Policy

What is the vaccination policy for PLU students?

A key component to opening safely and returning to in-person campus activities, consistent with public-health guidelines, is the requirement that all PLU students—undergraduate and graduate—be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and report it to the Health Center prior to arriving on campus in Fall 2021. (See PLU COVID-19 Vaccine Policy)

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

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. Let’s not lose sight of why we’re undertaking this challenge together. Let’s not lose sight of why we began to practice physical distancing, why we wore masks, why we need to follow the university’s COVID-19 safety policies, and why we need to get vaccinated. We’re doing this together because, as of this month, the pandemic has killed more U.S. residents than live in Tacoma, Spokane, Federal Way, and Olympia combined. Your PLU community members have lost mothers, fathers, siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and best friends to COVID-19. 

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.

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. Please refer to state and county vaccination websites for more information about pre-registering for and scheduling a vaccination appointment. For Lutes in the 253, you can find Pierce County’s mass vaccine event registration website at FindYourCovidShot.com, which is updated as events are added.

When do students need to be fully vaccinated?

In order to begin the fall semester, we are requiring all students to have received all recommended doses in their vaccine for COVID-19 and to provide documentation by Friday, August 1. This will allow sufficient time to reach fully-vaccinated status. More details about how to submit your documentation will be communicated directly to students and families in June.

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. To meet PLU’s August 1 deadline for students (with full immunity by August 12), an initial dose of vaccine will have to be received by:

July 1 for the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine (two doses, four weeks apart)

July 7 for the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine (two doses, three weeks apart)

July 15 for the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine (a single dose)

How do I prove I have been vaccinated?

Students need to submit all medical documentation of vaccinations to the Health Center by August 1. Vaccination records can be uploaded to a secure and confidential COVID Vaccine Record link on the PLU Health Center Documents and Forms webpage. Submitting fraudulent documents will be considered a violation of the Student Code of Conduct and will be referred to the Office of Student Rights and Responsibilities.

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 students for whom receiving the COVID-19 vaccination is medically inadvisable. Students must provide a statement, signed by a physician, which states that in the physician’s opinion, the vaccination required would be injurious to the student’s health and well-being.
  • Religious: Students must provide a written, signed waiver stating that they decline the vaccination for religious beliefs, including right of conscience.

What do I do if I can’t find or have lost my COVID-19 vaccine record?

Residents of Washington or those who received their vaccine in Washington, per the Washington DOH, “who misplace their CDC COVID-19 vaccination cards can easily view their immunization records online using MyIR, which is the state’s free and secure immunization records system (You can also use the MyIRmobile App). Once registered, you can access your family’s immunization records any time you need them. If you are unable to access your records online, you can visit a local pharmacy, clinic, or school to register for MyIR, request records from your healthcare provider, or request an immunization record from DOH.” If you received your vaccine series in another state, please contact that state’s Department of Health for assistance.

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 happens if I don’t have an exemption and I refuse to be vaccinated?

We are requiring that all PLU students — undergraduate and graduate — be vaccinated prior to the fall semester in order to enable us to restore a more “normal” university experience and to protect the health and safety of the campus and surrounding communities, and we are very hopeful that everyone will do so. Students who do not have a legitimate medical or religious/right of conscience exemption will not be able to attend classes at PLU in Fall 2021. Although we anticipate our typical limited assortment of online and blended courses each term, there will be no fully remote study option available next year. The exception to this is the fully online Master of Science in Marketing Analytics; there is no vaccination requirement for this program.

We will also be building out an additional list of FAQs on this topic as they come to our attention.

Is PLU the only university requiring vaccinations for students?

No. Although PLU was the second university in Washington to require vaccinations for students, we were quickly joined by Washington State University, Central Washington University, University of Washington, Western 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. 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.

Will PLU require faculty and staff to be vaccinated?

We are continuing to monitor federal and state guidance for employer regulations regarding the vaccination of employees, which continue to evolve. We strongly urge employees to get immunized against COVID-19 at the earliest opportunity after consulting their physician. Although there is as yet no established number that determines community immunity (or “herd immunity”), we are striving for 80%+ vaccination of the campus population. The larger the percentage of our community that is vaccinated, the greater overall protection achieved.

I will be taking classes on campus this summer. Do I need to be vaccinated before my summer session begins?

We will not require students to be vaccinated until the beginning of the Fall 2021 semester. However, we strongly encourage all students to get vaccinated as soon as possible to protect themselves and others. Please refer to state and county vaccination websites for more information about pre-registering for and scheduling a vaccination appointment. For Lutes in the 253, you can find Pierce County’s mass vaccine event registration website at FindYourCovidShot.com, which is updated as events are added.

We will provide more information if we are able to vaccinate students on campus, but we strongly encourage students to get vaccinated before arriving on campus this summer.

Students living and learning on campus this summer will be required to participate in proactive testing and any other mitigation measures outlined by the university.

I live outside the United States and have received an approved COVID-19 vaccine that is not authorized by the FDA. What should I do?

More information about the vaccination requirement for students living outside the United States will be provided through International Student Services. However, we strongly encourage students to get vaccinated wherever they are.

Can students still learn remotely in Fall 2021?

With the exception of a handful of courses specifically designed to be taught in a blended or online format, we plan to return to in-person instruction for Fall 2021.

What will it mean to be on campus and exempt from the vaccine?

Exempt students will be expected to continue complying with the following mitigation measures:

  • Masking in all indoor and large group settings/group setting of more than 5 individuals;
  • Regular participation in community proactive testing screening;
  • Quarantine for 10-14 days if exposed to a positive COVID case identified as a close contact.
  • Quarantine after return from travel out of state (QTQT).

It’s possible that CDC and public health recommendations may allow us to loosen some of these requirements by September. Please pay attention to PLU communications over the coming months.

What if I choose not to vaccinate and don't submit an exemption form?

Students who don’t submit a PLU exemption form and choose not to vaccinate, or fail to submit their vaccine records will have a hold kept on their student account restricting them from registering and from attending classes, living on campus, or holding student employment. Complying with vaccination or exemption expectations by submitting appropriate documentation to the Health Center will release this hold.

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:

  • COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective.
  • COVID-19 vaccination is an important tool to help stop the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • COVID-19 vaccination helps protect people from getting sick or severely ill with COVID-19, including variants.
  • To receive the most protection, people should receive all recommended doses of a COVID-19 vaccine.

Effectiveness rates (according to Yale Medicine):

  • Pfizer — 95% efficacy in preventing COVID-19 in those without prior infection. The researchers report that the vaccine was equally effective across a variety of different types of people and variables, including age, gender, race, ethnicity, and body mass index (BMI)—or presence of other medical conditions. In clinical trials, the vaccine was 100% effective at preventing severe disease.
  • Moderna — 94.1% effective at preventing symptomatic infection in people with no evidence of previous COVID-19 infection. 
  • Johnson & Johnson — 72% overall efficacy and 86% efficacy against severe disease in the U.S.

Note: Pfizer and Moderna have both indicated they will be seeking full approval.

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

Where can I find additional information about the safety of the vaccine?

There is a significant amount of information available on the safety and efficacy of the vaccines. Here are links to some of this information:

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 if I’m unable to find a location to get vaccinated where I live?

If you have difficulty finding a vaccination location, you may contact the PLU Health Center for a consultation. You may also search your local public health district for vaccine availability; for Lutes in the 253, you can find Pierce County’s mass vaccine event registration website at FindYourCovidShot.com, which is updated as events are added.

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

Vaccine ingredients can vary by manufacturer. To learn more about the ingredients in authorized COVID-19 vaccines, see:

Additionally, the FDA provides more context and a list of common ingredients in U.S. licensed vaccines here.

"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.

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 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.

"Are we expecting students from a lower socioeconomic class to have access to vaccination clinics?"

For many low-income communities—rural and others—inequity has been the narrative of this pandemic so far. We have to disrupt that. We believe in equitable access to quality education and healthcare, and we want to promote health and eliminate disparities across the board, not just as it relates to COVID-19.

 

The federal government is providing the vaccine free of charge to all people living in the United States, regardless of their immigration or health insurance status. Additionally, ~90% of U.S. Americans live within five miles of a vaccination site.

Pierce County Transit provides free bus transportation to all vaccine events in the county. In many communities, Uber and Lyft are providing free vaccine transportation as well. We were also purposeful in partnering with the Equity Action Network and Pierce County to bring clinics to PLU, understanding that we needed their perspectives, expertise, and guidance.

If any student is having trouble gaining access to the vaccine, the Health Center can help consult.

"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 health care 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?

Research to date indicates that viral load is significantly reduced by vaccination and that, because of that, asymptomatic transmission is much less likely. However, until we have more information about the degree of transmission, it will be important to continue masking and physical distancing in certain situations.

Do the various variants increase transmission among vaccinated individuals?

Research to date suggests that the current U.S.-based vaccines are effective against the variants that have emerged up to this point.

Why are healthy college-aged students expected to receive the vaccine if transmission is not reduced by it?

Transmission is reduced by vaccination. 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. According to data from the Washington DOH on 5/8/21, 31% of current COVID-19 cases are in individuals between the ages of 20 and 34.

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 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?

Vaccine ingredients can vary by manufacturer. To learn more about the ingredients in authorized COVID-19 vaccines, see:

Additionally, the FDA provides more context and a list of common ingredients in U.S. licensed vaccines here.

"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.

Planning

Why did the decision to mandate vaccination happen so suddenly?

The university needed to contribute to larger goals for community well-being and was responding to CDC, American College Health Association, and state and local public health guidance, consultation, and priorities about what is necessary to eradicate this virus. Consultation also occurred with other Washington State colleges and universities that are currently making vaccine-requirement decisions for similar reasons. (As of this response, almost 80% of college students in Washington are now enrolled at schools with COVID-19 vaccine requirements.)

"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.

Why is a vaccine being mandated without full FDA approval?

Full FDA approval of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines is expected as soon as this summer.

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. If we return to campus without mandatory vaccination for students, it is not feasible to continue delivering those measures at the scale required.

Are vaccinated people still required to wear masks and socially distance?

That public-health guidance is changing as we speak, and it appears that, in most cases, fully vaccinated people will not need to participate in those mitigation measures.

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 the CICP 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.