UNC answers COVID-19 vaccine questions at first town hall
UNC hosted its first of two virtual COVID-19 vaccine town halls this week on March 9 for students, faculty and staff. During the panel, Dr. David Weber, UNC School of Medicine professor and a leader of the UNC vaccine efforts, and Audrey Pettifor, UNC epidemiology professor, presented information and answered questions about the COVID-19 vaccines.
Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz urged attendees to get the vaccine as soon as they are able.
“We don’t know what the future holds, yet this vaccine is our best chance to have as close to a normal summer and fall as possible,” he said.
Weber began his presentation by highlighting information and statistics about vaccine distribution. UNC Health has provided about 12.5% of all the vaccines in North Carolina, Weber said. He explained the differences between available vaccines, and he predicted that additional vaccines will be released by this summer, increasing the vaccine supply.
In Pettifor’s presentation, she introduced “Prevent COVID U,” a new trial UNC will launch across the United States. This study will investigate if the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine reduces transmission of the virus to other people. Researchers will recruit about 575 UNC students ages 18 to 26 who have not had COVID-19 before, plan to be around the Chapel Hill area this summer and will be part of the Carolina Together Testing Program.
Crystal Wiley Cené, associate professor of medicine, moderated the Q&A session. Viewers had the opportunity to submit questions prior to and during the town hall.
The following questions and responses have been edited for clarity.
The best vaccine is the first vaccine you're offered. They're all fabulous vaccines and prevent hospitalization and death.
Pfizer and BioNTech
mRNA (virus genetic code)
mRNA (virus genetic code)
Spike protein, 30 μg
Spike protein, 100 μg
Two injections, 21 days apart
Two injections, 28 days apart
16 years or older
18 years or older
~95% (~50% after 1 dose)
-20°C (up to 6 months)
Stability when mixed
The U.K. variant, the one that is spreading the most rapidly in the United States, has no effect on vaccine efficacy. There is some evidence that some vaccines have less effectiveness against the South African and Brazilian variants, which are much less common in the United States. However, the most recent data for the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines indicates that they are effective against the mutations in those variants.
Moderna and Pfizer side effects generally last less than a day and are relieved by Tylenol or Motrin. Side effects are slightly worse after the second dose of vaccine than the first. More severe side effects, like severe allergic reactions, have been very uncommon and are easy to treat. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine has similar side effects but at a likely lower frequency.
Both immunocompromised people as well as other groups like older individuals are at a much higher risk of severe complications with COVID-19 than the vaccine. You need to balance the benefits, which are clear, with the risks, which are small. It's worth talking to your physician about the best timing to get your vaccines – you'd like to get it at a period when you're at as minimal immune suppression as possible.
There are many pregnant women who have received the vaccine. There is no data on adverse side effects in pregnant women or their children at this stage. Talk to your healthcare provider about your specific risks.
The vaccine trials did not study the vaccine's effect on transmission. The trials focused on if the vaccine prevents symptomatic disease. However, the CDC recently stated that vaccinated people can get together with other vaccinated people indoors, in small groups, without masks. Even if you're vaccinated, you still need to wear a mask in public. We're going to start to see more conversations about what you can do post-vaccine, which is all about transmission.
The CDC defines "fully immunized" as two weeks after your second dose of Moderna or Pfizer vaccines or two weeks after your only dose of Johnson & Johnson vaccine. However, we do know that for the two-dose vaccines that after about two weeks after your first dose, you begin developing partial immunity, but it's not as effective as two doses.
The CDC recommends separating the COVID-19 vaccine from any other vaccine, including flu, by two weeks.
Absolutely, but don't get your vaccine while you're still infectious to protect healthcare providers. Data shows the vaccine gives people a dramatic boost in more avid antibodies that provide broader protection.
Yes. The first and second dose are identical. People should not mix and match vaccine brands, because Pfizer and Moderna are not identical.
It's unknown. We don't know how long the protection from the vaccine lasts or what will happen with the coronavirus variants. It's possible people will need to get a booster.
It's unknown. There are estimates that when between 70 and 80% of the population is protected, herd immunity will occur and people who are not vaccinated will be protected, too. It's possible that if we reach that level and see low levels of infection, we can reduce our mask wearing. But we have to wait, watch and see.
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