What we know about the COVID-19 vaccine

Updated 12/12/20

Dr. Andy Pavia, chief of the Division of Pediatric Infectious Disease at the University of Utah, discusses 10 things to know about the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine—which the FDA has just given Emergency Use Authorization—on the newest episode of the U Rising podcast. Listen here.

University of Utah Health anticipates it will receive doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech mRNA vaccine by mid-December, after final reviews are completed and provided the FDA grants Emergency Use Authorization. The FDA also is currently evaluating a vaccine from Moderna. This FAQ shares what we know at this time—is subject to change—about distribution of the vaccine, its effectiveness and other information that may be helpful to the U campus community.

Which health systems in Utah will receive the initial doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine and when? 

The Utah Department of Health has determined that U of U Health and Intermountain Healthcare will receive initial doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine. Both systems are able to handle the storage and distribution requirements of the vaccine, which must be kept at -80 degrees Celsius until ready for use.

The first shipments of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine are expected to arrive in Utah by mid-December. They will be distributed to one U of U Health facility and four Intermountain Healthcare hospitals: University Hospital, Intermountain Medical Center, LDS Hospital, Utah Valley Hospital and Dixie Regional Medical Center. Each facility will receive about 2,000 doses initially, with more expected to arrive soon after.

Who will be vaccinated first?

The vaccine will be distributed in phases, following recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). The first priority is health care personnel. Health care providers who are on the frontlines of testing and caring for patients with COVID-19 and staff in housekeeping, transportation and security in areas with a high-risk of direct or indirect exposure will be the first group to be offered the vaccine. U of U Health expects to provide vaccines to 500 to 750 healthcare personnel a day, accommodating work schedules.

Will health care employees have to pay for the vaccine?

 No, U of U health faculty and staff will not have to pay for the vaccination.

Is U of U Health mandating that these workers get a vaccine? 

No, the vaccine will be optional at this time and declining a vaccine will have no effect on an individual’s job status.

Will U of U Health have a sufficient supply to provide the two doses of the vaccine each individual needs to acquire immunity?

Yes, Pfizer has committed to holding a sufficient reserve to meet needs of each facility for the second round of vaccinations, which need to be administered 21 to 28 days after an individual receives the first dose.

When will the vaccine be rolled out to other groups?

The next groups to receive the vaccine, according to guidelines from the Utah Department of Health and the CDC, will be healthcare providers at other Utah hospitals and health clinics and employees and residents of long-term care facilities, likely in late December or early January. Between February and March, the vaccine will be made available to essential workers and high-risk individuals. It is anticipated that vaccines will be available to the general public sometime between March and July.

Will these groups have to pay for the vaccine?

No. According to the state, the vaccination will be free although individuals may have to pay routine charges assessed by health care providers for administering the shot; these charges should be covered by health insurance.

How do we know how effective the vaccine is?

Preliminary studies show that the Pfizer mRNA vaccine was determined to be 95% effective in preventing COVID-19 in a trial that included 44,000 people between the ages of 18 and 80. By contrast, 1 in every 150 people who contract COVID-19 die.

The vaccine is expected to lower the number of people infected by the virus that causes COVID-19, reduce severity of the disease and number of people needing hospitalization, and lower the number of deaths.

More information about the efficacy of the vaccine and how long it remains effective may be determined as it goes through additional reviews and is distributed more broadly.

What kind of side effects does the vaccine cause?

Some participants in the trial reported mild symptoms that included mild pain, swelling or redness at the injection site, headaches, chills, muscle and joint aches and short-lived, low-grade fever. It is possible that other side effects may be identified as the vaccine is more widely distributed.

If I receive a vaccine, will I still need to follow coronavirus-related health guidelines?

 Yes. The vaccine is just one tool aimed at slowing the spread of coronavirus. It will take time to know how effective the vaccine is among the broader public and to vaccinate adequate numbers of people. Use of face coverings, frequently washing hands, maintaining physical distance of 6 feet in public spaces and staying home when you are sick will continue to be important ways of preventing spread of the virus and protecting those who are at high-risk of contracting the disease while immunity is building in the community.

Will I need to quarantine after receiving a vaccine?

The peak response to the vaccine appears to be one to two weeks after receiving the second dose. Given that, while quarantining is not necessary after being vaccinated individuals who receive a vaccine should continue to follow all coronavirus-related health guidelines until distribution has reached a majority of people in the community.

U of U Health plans to stagger distribution and accommodate work schedules of healthcare providers to as great an extent as possible—without jeopardizing staffing needs—to coincide with days off in the event an individual experiences any side effects.

If I’ve had COVID-19 should I get a vaccine?

Yes. That is because it is not known how long immunity to the coronavirus lasts and there have been rare instances in which individuals have contracted COVID-19 after an initial bout of the disease.

More information about U of U Health’s distribution plan is available here. To learn more about the state’s plan, visit this page.