COVID-19 Vaccine Frequently Asked Questions

To support our community, Brown is providing updated answers to questions about the COVID-19 vaccines.

The University is committed to keeping our community informed as information becomes available about the COVID-19 vaccine. The following is a list of frequently asked questions from faculty, staff and students, which will be updated as additional information becomes available.

General Questions

Currently, three COVID-19 vaccines — one made by Pfizer-BioNTech, one by Moderna, and one by Janssen, a subsidiary of Johnson and Johnson — have been authorized for emergency use in the U.S. by the Food and Drug Administration. Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines require two doses, and have been shown to be 95% effective in preventing symptomatic laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 and in preventing severe disease. The Johnson and Johnson vaccine is a single-dose vaccine that has been shown to be 85% effective in preventing severe or critical COVID-19 disease 28 days after vaccination. In clinical trials, it was 100% effective at preventing death. The vaccines are authorized for individuals age 16 and older (Pfizer) and age 18 and older (Moderna and Johnson and Johnson). None of the vaccines carry live coronavirus. You cannot get COVID-19 from the vaccine.

The existing vaccines have been shown to be 95% effective in preventing symptomatic laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 and in preventing severe disease. The wider and faster the vaccine is distributed and utilized in the Providence and Rhode Island communities, the sooner more normal operations will return to the Brown University campus.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration authorized Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use on Dec. 11, 2020, Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use on Dec. 18, 2020, and Johnson & Johnson's COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use on Feb. 27, 2021. The State of Rhode Island began vaccinating high-risk hospital workers the week of Dec. 14, 2020. People can follow the progress of different vaccines at various vaccine tracker sites and applications, like the New York Times Coronavirus Tracker or BioPharma Dive.

Which vaccine is administered will depend largely on availability and distribution. Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines require two doses. The Pfizer vaccine requires a second dose 21 days after the first dose and the Moderna vaccine requires a second dose 28 days after the first dose. For both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, the first dose is the same as the second dose in terms of amount and its composition. Although the vaccines are equally effective, they are not interchangeable. It is important to have both doses be administered from the same type of vaccine.

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine is a viral vector vaccine made with a modification of the common cold virus. It has been shown to be 85% effective in preventing severe or critical COVID-19 disease 28 days after vaccination. In clinical trials, it was 100% effective at preventing death. The CDC and RIDOH have resumed the administration of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine following a pause from April 13 to April 26 to examine a blood clotting concern in a small number of recipients. The CDC has shared that “as of April 13, 2021, of the more than 180 million doses administered so far of the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccines, no reports matching those associated with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine have been received.” All clotting incidents reported from the Johnson & Johnson vaccine occurred in women ages 18 to 48, and the symptoms occurred between six to 13 days after receiving the vaccination.

According to the CDC, there are multiple COVID-19 variants circulating around the world. Several new variants emerged in the fall of 2020 — most notably, separate variants of SARS-CoV-2 first identified in the United Kingdom, South Africa and Brazil. Scientists don’t know yet whether the approved COVID-19 vaccines are effective against the variants. Researchers are working hard to understand how widely these variants have spread and how these variants will react to existing treatments and vaccines. It seems that these variants spread more easily and quickly. We do not know for sure that they cause more severe illness or increased risk of death. But an increase in the number of cases can strain health care resources. For this reason, we must continue to practice measures like wearing masks, washing our hands and watching our distance. The emergence of variants is yet another reason that everyone should be vaccinated as soon as they become eligible. If the virus cannot reproduce itself in infected people,  it is less likely to mutate into new variants.

No. Vaccines do not cause disease. However, vaccines can cause your immune system to respond. This is a sign that the vaccine — and your body’s immune system — is working. Based on information released about the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, recipients are expected to have symptoms after vaccination. People may feel some soreness at the site of injection, some aches and fatigue. These symptoms may be more noticeable than those that occur with a flu vaccine. This is completely normal and will clear up in a few days.

Safety is a top priority. COVID-19 vaccines have been tested in large clinical trials with thousands of people of different ages, races, ethnicities and underlying medical conditions to make sure they are safe. No steps involving safety have been skipped— COVID-19 vaccines are being held to the same standards as other vaccines to make sure they are safe. To ensure the safety of vaccines in the United States, there is a rigorous vaccine development and approval process. Following approval of a vaccine, there are several systems in place to continue to ensure safety.

After a vaccine is approved and distributed, vaccine monitoring systems are used to watch for possible side effects. If an unexpected side effect is seen, experts study it to determine whether changes are needed in vaccine recommendations. The Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) is a national vaccine safety surveillance program of the FDA and the CDC. VAERS collects and analyzes information from reports of adverse events (e.g., side effects) that occur after a vaccine has been approved and distributed. Anyone can submit a report to VAERS by going to this link: https://vaers.hhs.gov/reportevent.html.

The vaccines have been approved through a process called an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA). This is an authority that allows the FDA to make certain medical products (e.g., vaccines, treatments) available during public health emergencies. The FDA released guidance for vaccine manufacturers considering requests for an EUA. This guidance explains the criteria that need to be met before any vaccine for COVID-19 will receive an EUA. To meet criteria, the vaccine’s potential and known benefits must outweigh the potential and known risks. In addition, the vaccine must be at least 50% effective and must meet certain safety standards among a sufficiently large group of volunteers.

You must continue to participate in testing even after being vaccinated. At this time, it is unknown how well vaccines prevent asymptomatic infection. In addition, vaccines are not always 100% effective. Finally, the duration of immunity after vaccination is also unknown. For these reasons, it is important to continue to participate in routine COVID-19 testing programs at present.

No. The federal government is providing the vaccine free of charge to people living in the United States. However, your vaccination provider may bill your insurance company, Medicaid or Medicare for an administration fee. Vaccination providers can be reimbursed for this by the patient’s public or private insurance company or, for uninsured patients, by the Health Resources and Services Administration’s Provider Relief Fund. No one can be denied a vaccine if they are unable to pay the vaccine administration fee.

Brown’s Plans for Vaccinations

Distribution of the vaccine in the United States is currently controlled and managed by federal and state agencies. The University has offered to support the state of Rhode Island’s distribution efforts, but at this time we do not have a direct role in providing or distributing the vaccine. We hope there will be opportunities in the future for the University to host on-campus clinics to administer the vaccine to eligible populations, but Brown does not have authorization from the state or access to vaccine to do so at this time. While that may change as the vaccine becomes more readily available, for the time being we will focus our efforts on education and advocacy to promote vaccine adoption.

Distribution of the vaccine in the United States is currently controlled and managed by federal and state agencies. Effective Monday, April 19, 2021, all individuals 16 years of age and older who live, work or study in Rhode Island are eligible to get the COVID-19 vaccine at no cost and with no requirement for insurance. The University has offered to support the state of Rhode Island’s distribution efforts, but at this time we do not have a direct role in providing or distributing the vaccine. While that may change as the vaccine becomes more readily available, for the time being we will focus our efforts on education and advocacy to promote vaccine adoption.

In Rhode Island’s Phase 1 plan, some Brown faculty, staff and students were eligible to be vaccinated – primarily health care workers, first responders and medical students in clinical rotations. Accordingly, some members of our community in the Warren Alpert Medical School, Department of Public Safety, and Health and Wellness have been vaccinated. Adults 75 years of age and older were also included in Phase 1, and the vaccine was made available for them in February.

Should the University receive in the future authorization from the state and access to vaccine to be able to administer it directly, all distribution plans would be based on the State of Rhode Island’s prioritization system and timeline for vaccinations in Rhode Island, which indicates when residents will be eligible to receive the vaccine. A specific plan would be communicated to the campus community in advance of any on-campus administration of the vaccine.

Starting in the Fall 2021 semester, Brown will require COVID-19 vaccines for all undergraduate, graduate and medical students who will be on campus or engage in any level of in-person instruction. Medical and religious exemptions from vaccination will be granted to students, and reasonable accommodations will be provided (as determined by applicable law). Undergraduate and graduate students who are not vaccinated and do not qualify for a medical or religious exemption will not be permitted to access campus and will need to either petition to study remotely from their permanent residence or take a leave of absence. Medical students who are not vaccinated will receive information specific to the circumstances of medical education from the Warren Alpert Medical School administration.

Further information regarding the implementation of these vaccination requirements, including the process for providing vaccination documentation and requesting exemptions, will be provided to students during summer 2021 by University Health Services. Students and their families should consult their local resources for availability and procedures for getting vaccinated.

Brown’s COVID-19 Vaccine Working Group continues to assess whether vaccination against COVID-19 should be mandatory for employees. The group will provide a recommendation to the University's senior administration by June 1, and policies and protocols will be based on the best scientific evidence. Similar to the policy for students, if Brown decides to make the vaccine mandatory for employees, medical and religious exemptions will be granted and reasonable accommodations will be provided under applicable law.

We understand that there is varying access to the vaccine across the country and around the world, and the University’s COVID-19 Vaccine Working Group is exploring these questions. We also understand that there may be implications for travel and/or other contingencies that require advance planning to meet the vaccination requirements. Our public health experts tell us that, barring unforeseen circumstances, by late summer/early fall 2021 the supply of COVID-19 vaccine will have increased substantially in comparison to current supply levels. As a result, it is our expectation that those students who are unable to access the COVID-19 vaccine prior to arrival, especially international students, will be able to get vaccinated in the state of Rhode Island where they will be living and studying. There will be additional information over the summer from University Health Services regarding the implementation of the vaccination requirements.

Brown’s COVID-19 Vaccine Working Group is exploring this question, and more information about vaccination requirements for students from countries outside the United States will be provided in summer 2021 to students who will study at Brown in the 2021-22 academic year. We encourage students to consider vaccinating wherever they are (ideally completing a series, if needed). While at this time public health experts do not recommend interchanging brands of vaccines, we will share updated guidance with regard to this issue as it becomes available.

As vaccines become more readily available in Rhode Island, we are strongly recommending that employees get vaccinated at their earliest opportunity. To date, University records show that growing numbers of community members are getting vaccinated as the vaccine has become more widely accessible to anyone over age 16.

While receiving the vaccine is an important public health measure, it does not replace the essentials of mask wearing, hand washing, social distancing, staying home when sick and frequent COVID-19 testing. We don’t know whether a vaccine prevents asymptomatic infections and if there’s still the possibility that a vaccinated person could transmit the virus without knowing it. It is therefore important to continue wearing your mask after being vaccinated and until we have more information about how much and how long these vaccines offer protection against infection and transmission. For all of those reasons, all of Brown’s current public health policies and guidelines will remain in place even as more and more members of our community receive the vaccine. The wider and faster the vaccine is distributed and utilized in the Providence and Rhode Island communities, the sooner more normal operations will return to the Brown campus.

Consistent with guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and the Rhode Island Department of Health, once you have received any COVID-19 vaccine, you do not need to quarantine if you meet all of the following criteria:

  • you received, at least 14 days before your last exposure or out-of-state travel, a final vaccine dose that is either FDA-approved or received an Emergency Use Authorization;
  • it has been less than 90 days since your final vaccine dose; and
  • you haven’t had symptoms of COVID-19 since your last exposure or out-of-state travel.

Always watch for symptoms for a full 14 days. Vaccinated close contacts and travelers should still get a COVID-19 test between 5 and 10 days after their last exposure or out-of-state travel.

More information from RIDOH about quarantine and isolation criteria can be found at: https://covid.ri.gov/covid-19-prevention/quarantine-and-isolation

Vaccinated persons should continue to follow all current guidance to protect themselves and others, including following CDC travel guidance. Until there is more research, we still need to wear masks and also remain six feet apart when not with people in our household. Studies of the COVID-19 vaccines have only measured whether vaccinated people developed symptoms, not whether they got infected. You can become infected with the coronavirus and be asymptomatic. Asymptomatic people can still spread COVID-19 to others. We don’t know whether a vaccine prevents asymptomatic infections and if there’s still the possibility that a vaccinated person could transmit the virus without knowing it. It is therefore important to continue wearing your mask after being vaccinated and until we have more information about how much and how long these vaccines offer protection against infection and transmission.

At this point, all events and in-person socializing and activities are guided by the University’s current Campus Activity Status. For the small number of in-person events that are currently permitted, no proof of vaccinations are required — however, events must be held in compliance with Campus Activity Status requirements.

A COVID-19 Vaccine Working Group — co-chaired by Executive Vice President for Planning and Policy Russell Carey and Dr. Michele Cyr, professor of medicine and the Division of Biology and Medicine’s senior associate dean for academic affairs — will oversee Brown’s education and advocacy efforts for the COVID-19 vaccine, as well as advise the president and the provost on matters of policy. Distribution of the vaccine in the United States is currently controlled and managed by federal and state agencies. The University has offered to support the state of Rhode Island’s distribution efforts, but at this time we do not have a direct role in providing or distributing the vaccine. While that may change as the vaccine becomes more readily available, for the time being we will focus our efforts on education and advocacy to promote vaccine adoption.

Vaccination Eligibility and Access

In Rhode Island, eligibility for the vaccine has been determined by the Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH). Over time, the state has been releasing a timeline for vaccinations in Rhode Island, indicating when residents are eligible to receive the vaccine. Effective Monday, April 19, 2021, all individuals 16 years of age and older who live, work or study in Rhode Island are eligible to get the COVID-19 vaccine at no cost and with no requirement for insurance.

Individual states establish the timelines for eligible populations, and Massachusetts residents can learn more about their state’s plans on the Massachusetts COVID-19 Vaccine Information website, while those living in Connecticut can visit the Connecticut COVID-19 Response website for vaccination information. We encourage all members of the Brown community to pay attention to the state plan where they reside, and if you become eligible to receive the vaccine, do so as soon as possible.

Rhode Island has been distributing the vaccine supply it receives and the amounts allocated to the state by the federal government have been increasing although still remain somewhat variable. State officials anticipate the volume of vaccine they receive and the pace of distribution will continue to improve over the coming weeks and months. We hope there will be opportunities in the future for the University to host on-campus clinics to administer the vaccine to eligible populations (and we have indicated to the state that we are willing to do so), but Brown does not have authorization from the state or access to vaccine to do so at this time.

Individual states establish the timelines for eligible populations, and all members of the Brown community are encouraged to monitor the availability of the vaccine in the state in which they reside. Effective Monday, April 19, 2021, all individuals 16 years of age and older who live, work or study in Rhode Island are eligible to get the COVID-19 vaccine at no cost and with no requirement for insurance. Massachusetts residents can learn more about their state’s plans on the Massachusetts COVID-19 Vaccine Information website, while those living in Connecticut can visit the Connecticut COVID-19 Response website for vaccination information. Should Brown receive the authorization from the state and access to the vaccine required to administer the vaccine on-campus directly to eligible populations, the University will communicate this clearly to the full Brown community.

Yes. The federal government is providing the vaccine free of charge to people living in the United States. International students are encouraged to get the vaccine if and when they become eligible per the phased prioritization systems managed by each state.

Brown does not have a direct role in providing the vaccine currently. We encourage all members of the Brown community to pay attention to the state plan where they reside, and if you become eligible to receive the vaccine, do so as soon as possible. In the future, should the University receive authorization from the state and have access to administer the vaccine directly, all distribution plans will be based on the State of Rhode Island’s prioritization system and timeline for vaccinations in Rhode Island, which indicates when residents will be eligible to receive the vaccine. A specific plan would be communicated to the campus community in advance of any on-campus administration of the vaccine, including information about who is eligible.

Brown does not have a direct role in providing the vaccine currently. We encourage all members of the Brown community to pay attention to the state plan where they reside, and if you become eligible to receive the vaccine, do so as soon as possible.

Individual states establish the timelines for eligible populations. We encourage all members of the Brown community to pay attention to the state plan where they reside, and if you become eligible to receive the vaccine, do so as soon as possible. Effective Monday, April 19, 2021, all individuals 16 years of age and older who live, work or study in Rhode Island are eligible to get the COVID-19 vaccine at no cost and with no requirement for insurance. Massachusetts residents can learn more about their state’s plans on the Massachusetts COVID-19 Vaccine Information website, while those living in Connecticut can visit the Connecticut COVID-19 Response website for vaccination information. When you do receive the vaccine you will receive a vaccination card. It is important to hold on to the vaccination documentation you are provided for future reference.

Brown does not have a direct role in providing the vaccine currently. We encourage all members of the Brown community to pay attention to the state plan where they reside, and if you become eligible to receive the vaccine, do so as soon as possible.

Vaccine Health and Safety

COVID-19 vaccines do not cause COVID-19 infection. However, they are expected to cause your immune system to respond. This is a sign that the vaccine — and your body’s immune system — is working and will fight the virus if you are exposed to it. Based on information released about the Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson and Johnson vaccines, we expect people to have some symptoms after vaccination. People may feel some soreness at the injection site, body aches, and/or fatigue. These symptoms may be more noticeable than those that occur with a flu vaccine. This is completely normal and will clear up in a few days.

It is recommended that vaccine recipients do not take pain relief medication prior to vaccination, as it may decrease antibody response to the first dose of vaccine and lower its efficacy. However, studies on taking acetaminophen or ibuprofen to manage side effects after vaccination showed that both vaccines have a still high efficacy rate: 95% for Pfizer-BioNTech and 94.1% for Moderna.

The exact degree and duration of immunity after receiving an mRNA vaccine is currently unknown. There is no lab test to determine if you are immune and protected. However, according to CDC guidelines, should you be exposed to a case of COVID-19 at least 14 days after receiving the second dose of the vaccine, you do not need to quarantine. Nonetheless, it is important to monitor yourself for symptoms. Studies of the COVID-19 vaccines have only measured whether vaccinated people developed symptoms, not whether they got infected. You can become infected with the coronavirus and be asymptomatic (i.e., have no symptoms). Asymptomatic people can still spread COVID-19 to others. We don’t know whether a vaccine prevents asymptomatic infections and if there’s still the possibility that a vaccinated person could transmit the virus without knowing it. It is therefore important to continue taking precautions such as wearing your mask after being vaccinated. This will be especially true  until we have more information about how much and how long these vaccines offer protection against infection and transmission.

According to the Rhode Island Department of Health, people with a history of severe allergic reaction (e.g., anaphylaxis) to other vaccines (i.e., not Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna or Johnson and Johnson COVID-19 vaccines) or to an injectable medication should review their risks with a primary care provider. Depending on that assessment, they can be vaccinated. After vaccination, people who have no history of severe allergic reactions are asked to wait for 15 minutes to be observed for potential side effects. People with a history of severe allergic reactions should be prepared for a 30-minute observation period. Individuals with a history of other allergies (e.g., to food, pets, insects, environmental allergies) or a family history of anaphylaxis should still be vaccinated. People with a history of severe allergic reactions (e.g., anaphylaxis) to any component of the COVID-19 vaccines should not be vaccinated.

Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines require two doses. The Pfizer vaccine requires a second dose 21 days after the first dose and the Moderna vaccine requires a second dose 28 days after the first dose. For both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, the first dose is the same as the second dose in terms of amount and its composition. The vaccines are not interchangeable. When you begin a vaccine series with one type of vaccine, the second vaccine must be of the same type.

Updated guidance from the CDC states that the second dose should be administered as close to the recommended interval as possible. However, if it is not feasible to adhere to the recommended interval, the second dose of Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines may be scheduled for administration up to six weeks (42 days) after the first dose. There are currently limited data on the efficacy of mRNA COVID-19 vaccines administered beyond this window. Despite the absence of efficacy data, if  an unavoidable delay occurs, the second dose may be administered beyond the six-week window without restarting the series.

The Johnson and Johnson vaccine is a single-dose vaccine.

The current Pfizer and Moderna mRNA COVID-19 vaccines are not interchangeable with each other or with other COVID-19 vaccine products. The safety and efficacy of mixing these vaccines has not been evaluated. Per the CDC, in exceptional situations in which the first-dose vaccine product cannot be determined or is no longer available, any mRNA COVID-19 vaccine may be administered at a minimum of 28 days between doses.

Yes, you should still get vaccinated — there is no reason to avoid vaccination if you have tested positive for COVID-19 in the past. This is especially true if your positive test was more than three months before your first dose of vaccine. While there is no minimum interval that is required between a positive test and vaccination, studies have shown that the vast majority of people have natural immunity for three months after infection. Therefore, vaccination is not as critical during that time.

Pregnant and breastfeeding women can be vaccinated if they choose, after they have had the opportunity to discuss risks and benefits with their healthcare providers.

These are among the resources from the CDC and Rhode Island Department of Health accessible online:

Last updated April 28, 2021. Information on this page may be updated as the University’s planning evolves and/or public health guidance prompts a shift in Brown’s operations and protocols.