COVID-19 vaccine mandatory for Fall 2021 return, how to make informed vaccine decisions

Julia Jackson  

[email protected] 

Editor’s Note: This article contains medical information. Consult your healthcare provider before making any medical decisions. 

     Approaching the end of the spring semester, COVID-19 vaccines have become increasingly available to UCCS students on and off campus, though not all students have chosen to receive them. 

     As of Wednesday, April 28, the University of Colorado (CU) system has decided to mandate that all CU students be vaccinated against COVID-19 before the Fall 2021 semester begins, according to an email announcement by CU President Mark Kennedy. 

     Given this development, students may now need to consider where and how to get vaccinated, as well as which vaccine to get. 

     Vaccines authorized for emergency use by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the U.S. currently include Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen (J&J/Janssen). 

     The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advises against waiting for a specific brand and instead recommends receiving the first COVID-19 vaccine available to you. However, if you are given a choice of vaccine, you may wish to consider efficacy as well as timing. 

     The UCCS Wellness Center has offered Moderna at its vaccination clinics, while other clinics in the community may offer multiple options. The Wellness Center will also offer the J&J/Janssen vaccine through a clinic on Thursday, May 6, from 12 p.m. to 2 p.m. This clinic is open to “UCCS students, alumni, faculty, staff, family and friends,” according to an email sent to the UCCS community on May 4. Registration is not required, and participants are asked to bring a photo ID.

     According to the CDC, Pfizer is 95% effective, while Moderna is 94.1% effective and J&J/Janssen is 66.3% effective at preventing COVID-19. Efficacy is based on clinical trial settings, but they are estimated to be as effective in real-world conditions, according to a study by the University of Utah. 

     While no vaccine is considered 100% effective at preventing COVID-19, “all three vaccines are highly efficacious at preventing serious illness, hospitalization and death from COVID-19,” according to Johns Hopkins Medicine

     Upon getting the first dose of a vaccine, you cannot receive a different vaccine for your second dose. The second dose is required within a set time frame for both Pfizer and Moderna respectively to maximize effectiveness, according to Healthline

     All three vaccines vary in the number and timing of their doses. Pfizer’s two shots are administered three weeks apart, while Moderna’s two shots are administered four weeks apart. The J&J/Janssen vaccine requires only one shot. 

     The Pfizer vaccine is approved for use in people 16 years and older, while Moderna and J&J/Janssen are only approved for use in people 18 years and older, according to the CDC. Most UCCS students are likely eligible for any of the three vaccines. 

Vaccine distribution at UCCS on April 27. Photo by Lauren Rock. 

     In all cases, you will only be considered fully vaccinated two weeks after your last shot. According to Healthline, vaccine immunity against COVID-19 is estimated to last at least six months and protects against most COVID-19 variants.  

     In February, Pfizer and BioNTech announced a clinical study to determine the effectiveness of a third-dose booster shot, to be administered six to 12 months after the initial two doses. 

     Recently, the J&J/Janssen vaccine was paused by the FDA and CDC from April 13-23 due to some cases of a severe blood clotting disorder in the brain called cerebral venous sinus thrombosis (CVST), according to Yale Medicine.  

     Six women, from ages 18 to 48, reported blood clots in late March and early April, and one woman died; a woman and a man also reported blood clots during the vaccine’s clinical trials. As of April 12, over 6.8 million J&J/Janssen vaccines had been administered, making these cases very rare. 

     The pause on the J&J/Janssen vaccine was lifted by the CDC and FDA with a new warning that women under the age of 50 should be aware of the rare CVST risk. 

     Regular side effects from all three vaccines may include fatigue, headache, nausea, chills, fever and muscle pain throughout the body, as well as pain in the arm where you got the shot, according to the CDC.  

     Side effects differ for everyone, but people generally experience stronger effects after the second dose of Pfizer or Moderna. Symptoms should last no more than a few days. If redness and swelling at the injection site worsens after a day, seek medical care for a possible allergic reaction. 

     Over-the-counter medicine such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen may be used to relieve pain and discomfort after getting the vaccine, but health experts recommend going without it if possible, to avoid interfering with the natural immune response, according to Healthline

     Pfizer and Moderna vaccines use messenger RNA, or mRNA, which serves as instructions that teach your body’s immune cells to make and destroy the COVID-19 virus’s signature spike protein on its own, creating antibodies that will prevent future infection, according to the CDC

     J&J/Janssen is a viral vector vaccine that uses a common, harmless adenovirus shell to enter your body’s cells, where it produces the spike protein and triggers the immune response, according to the CDC

     Front-facing student employees and staff had access to the first UCCS vaccination clinic on March 30. They received their second doses on Tuesday, April 27.  

     The Wellness Center also hosted other short-notice clinics on a first-come, first-served basis, taking place on April 13, April 15 and April 27-28. Another clinic will be hosted on May 6 and will be open to all members of the UCCS community.