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Great Questions and Some Answers

Jakub Tolar, MD, PhD, Campus Public Health Officer
July 28, 2021

Thank you for the lively discussion and great questions via feedback! There is a wide range of concerns around vaccination, particularly since there is confusing and contradictory information about it. I will work to answer your questions and address your concerns both individually and in this public space. Please click on the links if you want more in-depth information.

The University cares deeply about the safety and wellbeing of students, staff, and faculty. The situation is being constantly monitored with input from state (Minnesota Department of Health), federal (Centers for Disease Control), and other experts in immunology, law, and public health. Decisions are made based on the best information available and are subject to change if conditions change.

I’m vaccinated and I want to know:

Q: Is the University mandating vaccination for students, staff, and faculty to return to campus?
A: On August 9, 2021, the University provided updates regarding vaccine attestations and requirements for students, faculty and staff. Read the message.

Q: Are masks required on campus?
A: On Aug 2, 2021, the University announced that face coverings are required when in any University building. Read the message.

Q: How long does immunity last from the vaccine? Do I need a booster?
A: This is currently under review at the CDC, but boosters are not recommended at this time. For a deep dive into the immunology behind vaccines, listen to this interview with U of M world-renowned immunologist Dr. Marc Jenkins.

I need more information to make a decision and want to know:

Q: Why are you making such a big deal about vaccines now? 
A: The arrival of the delta variant in the U.S. and misinformation being circulated about vaccines have combined to create a serious public health situation. U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy issued a formal health advisory stating that misinformation about COVID-19 vaccines poses an "imminent and insidious threat to our nation’s health."

Q: COVID-19 is over, this isn’t important, why do you keep harping on vaccination?
A: It is not over, and we are facing one of the greatest challenges yet of the pandemic. Because the delta variant is so contagious, unvaccinated people run a high risk of becoming infected. COVID-19 is a terrible virus that has the potential to cause enormous suffering. There is nothing more important that trying to prevent that.

Additionally, as dean of the Medical School and vice president of Clinical Affairs, I am advocating on behalf of the healthcare providers I serve, who have been working beyond human capacity to care for very ill COVID-19 patients. When COVID-19 cases increase, all health care suffers.

Q: Why get the vaccine when it isn’t specific to the delta variant?
A: Because the vaccines we have do protect against the delta variant and, importantly, against the most severe effects of the disease.

Q: How do we know the vaccine is safe? It’s so new.
A: In order to apply for FDA review, the vaccines had to go through complete safety and efficacy testing. No steps were skipped. The vaccines may be new, but the technology and science behind them is not. That’s one reason they were developed so quickly. Nothing is perfectly safe, including the COVID-19 vaccines, but they are much safer than being infected with the disease.

Q: What about the serious side effects some vaccines can have?
A: The possibility of a serious or unexpected event related to vaccination is extremely low, but not zero. Millions of people have received the vaccine without serious side effects. The risks of serious side effects from the vaccine are far, far lower than the potential of a serious outcome from the COVID-19 virus itself.

Q: What about the deaths from the vaccine? I heard that more than 12,000 people have died.
A: About 6207 deaths have been reported after vaccination―but after vaccination does not mean caused by vaccination. With more than a million people being vaccinated each day (mid January to late June), especially elderly people and medically vulnerable people, a certain number of natural and unrelated deaths are not unexpected.

The organization that collects this data (on all vaccines, not just for COVID-19), Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS), states: “VAERS reports alone cannot be used to determine if a vaccine caused or contributed to an adverse event or illness. The reports may contain information that is incomplete, inaccurate, coincidental, or unverifiable.”

Q: I can’t take the vaccine; I don’t want to get sick from it.
A: Good news. You cannot get COVID-19 or get sick from a vaccine. The side effects some people experience are from their immune response, normal signs that the body is building its immunity to the virus. The effects may be unpleasant, but for most people they are minor and do not compare to the level of suffering that can come from having the virus.

Q: As a younger person, I have a lot of concerns about vaccination. How are side effects of the vaccine different for teens or young adults?
A: Side effects of the vaccine appear to be the same as for adults. NPR asked teens around the country for their questions about the COVID-19 vaccine and answered them.

Q: This only kills old people. I’m young and healthy, why should I care?
A: Unfortunately, not only can young and healthy people get sick, they can have severe complications from COVID-19.

Please consider others. People around you may have children too young to be vaccinated, cannot be vaccinated due severe allergies to vaccine components, or may have immune issues that prevent them from developing a robust immune response from the vaccine.

Q: What about herd immunity? Can’t we just depend on that?
A: Not at this time, no. We have not achieved a high enough vaccination rate. Herd immunity is not intended to protect healthy individuals; it counts on their having been vaccinated. Herd immunity protects people who are unable to be vaccinated (too young, allergies to vaccine components) or whose immune systems are compromised.

Q: I’ve had COVID-19, so I don’t need the vaccine, right?
A: You still need the vaccine. The level of antibodies from natural infection varies depending on the severity of the infection. The vaccine gives a more robust and consistent response. Also, it is unclear if antibodies from one type of the virus give you protection against other variants. Vaccination after COVID-19 infection provides excellent immunity.

Q: What is the survival rate for COVID-19?
A: This is incredibly difficult to answer because it depends on variables like age, overall health, and where you live. Dr. Aditi Nerurkar, a physician from the Harvard Medical School and the latest statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says the percentage is close to 97-98% survival from COVID-19. However, survival does not mean recovering perfect health. People now called “long-haulers” have negative impacts to quality of life and function ranging from shortness of breath and brain fog to more serious complications.

Additionally, survival rate does not accurately reflect the complete risk. Analysis of the U.S. mortality data for 2020 showed COVID-19 was the third leading cause of death in the United States, behind heart disease and cancer.

Great summaries that also answer these questions:

Due to my personal beliefs, I do not intend to be vaccinated.

We understand. We hope you will continue to independently monitor and evaluate the situation.

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