Public health officials recommend vaccination as the first and best way to ultimately protect our community against COVID-19. However, stopping this pandemic requires us to continue to deploy all public health strategies, including those well-known to us (e.g., mask wearing, physical distancing, frequent hand washing, avoiding large groups, limiting travel).
New York state is distributing COVID-19 vaccines in phases based on need and risk. The state is currently in Phase 1B.
The distribution of vaccines is an evolving and dynamic process. We will do our best to keep the campus community updated on New York state’s progress; however, we encourage you to visit the Tompkins County Department of Health for the timeliest information.
Cornell is not requiring its employees or students to be vaccinated at this time, but participation in the community-wide vaccination effort is strongly encouraged in order to protect and safeguard the health of our campus and greater Ithaca community.
These FAQs will be updated as more information about vaccination at Cornell becomes available.
About COVID-19 Vaccines
Two different COVID-19 vaccines are currently being distributed in the U.S., one produced by Pfizer-BioNTech and a second by Moderna. Learn more about how the vaccines work, what side effects may be experienced, and what protection is offered.
Frequently Asked Questions
8 things to know about the U.S. COVID-19 vaccination program
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has developed a list of top questions and things to know about the vaccine. Below is an abbreviated version; please visit CDC’s “8 things to know” for full details.
- The safety of COVID-19 vaccines is a top priority.
- COVID-19 vaccination will help protect you from getting COVID-19. Two doses are needed.
- CDC is making recommendations for who should be offered COVID-19 vaccine first when supplies are limited.
- There is currently a limited supply of COVID-19 vaccine in the U.S., but supply will increase in the weeks and months to come.
- After COVID-19 vaccination, many people experience some side effects. This is a normal sign that the body is building protection.
- Cost is not an obstacle to getting vaccinated against COVID-19.
- The first COVID-19 vaccines are being used under Emergency Use Authorizations from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Many other vaccines are still being developed and tested.
- COVID-19 vaccines are one of many important tools to help us stop this pandemic.
How do the vaccines work?
The Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines are similar in how they work. Both vaccines consist of genetic material called mRNA encased in tiny particles that deliver the mRNA into our cells. From there, our cells translate the mRNA to a protein, which stimulates the immune system to make antibodies that protect against the virus. These vaccines do not have any impact on our own genetic material, and the mRNA material breaks down in the body shortly after it is taken into our cells. Both vaccines require two doses to be fully effective.
Importantly, while some vaccines against viral infections consist of weakened virus designed to induce immunity, but not disease, the COVID-19 vaccines do not contain virus. Therefore, it is NOT possible to contract COVID-19 from any of the vaccines available to our community.
Is the vaccine safe?
All data currently available indicate that the vaccines are safe. Thus far, no serious long-term side effects have occurred. Some individuals do experience minor side effects that reflect the body’s immune response beginning; a tiny number of individuals have experienced allergic reactions and have required immediate and successful treatment.
Before approval, clinical trials were completed across the globe with approximately 44,000 participants for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and more than 30,000 for the Moderna vaccine. The FDA used the data from these trials to evaluate the vaccines’ safety and efficacy to make the emergency use determinations. The vaccines will continue to be studied — under CDC surveillance and by other means — to learn about longer-term safety and effectiveness. Since their approval for use, several million individuals have been immunized with one or the other vaccine, further supporting their safety.
How effective is the vaccine?
Pfizer reports that the vaccine is 95% effective. Moderna reports that their vaccine is 94% effective.
Why are two doses needed? What happens if someone misses their second dose?
Scientific studies suggest that two doses for the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines are optimal for achieving immunity. For the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, the second dose is administered 21 days after the first dose; for the Moderna vaccine, 28 days after the first dose.
The second dose must be the same type as the first one received. At the time of the first vaccination, most centers schedule individuals for their second dose. The second dose should be administered as close to the recommended interval as possible.
Some of the vaccines being studied for the future may require one dose, but none of these vaccines have been approved and are therefore not ready to be administered.
Can receiving the vaccination give someone COVID-19?
No. The vaccine does not contain live or deactivated/dead virus material, so it cannot give anyone COVID-19. If after receiving the vaccine an individual experiences symptoms that last more than a couple of days, like a fever, particularly if it is accompanied by cough, a regular health care provider should be contacted. Individuals who are diagnosed with the virus after vaccination are thought to have been exposed to the virus prior to getting the vaccine, or before it induced immunity. In this case, testing will be important to determine current COVID-19 status, and any need for isolation or quarantine. It is possible, of course, symptoms may reflect another infection such as a cold or the flu, something that can be determined by a health care provider.
What are possible side effects of the vaccine?
Soreness, redness and swelling at the injection site are the most common reactions, and are typically seen with many types of vaccines. In addition, fever, muscle aches and headaches can develop in a percentage of patients after the COVID-19 vaccine. Medical professionals have advised that such reactions do not reflect an allergy to the vaccine but are usually signs that the body is creating the immunity needed from the vaccine. Medical professionals advise that symptoms typically go away on their own within a couple of days and can be relieved with non-prescription medications (e.g., ibuprofen or acetaminophen) but individuals who have been vaccinated should contact their own health care provider with any concerns, or if any of these symptoms are very severe or if they persist.
If I have already had COVID-19 and recovered, do I still need to get vaccinated with a COVID-19 vaccine?
Yes. Due to the severe health risks associated with COVID-19 and the fact that re-infection with COVID-19 is possible, the CDC has recommended that vaccines be offered regardless of a prior COVID-19 infection. At this time, experts do not know how long someone is protected from getting sick again after recovering from COVID-19. The immunity someone gains from having an infection, called natural immunity, varies from person to person. How long natural immunity typically lasts is still an area under investigation.
Are you immune to COVID-19 after recovering from it?
This is still under investigation by vaccine experts and researchers who don’t yet know what antibody levels are needed to protect against reinfection. Therefore, health experts recommend individuals receive the vaccine even if they have already had COVID; however, it is not recommended to take the vaccine during the period of COVID-19 illness itself. A person who has tested positive for COVID-19 and is currently completing isolation, must wait for at least 10 days after the positive test and upon release from isolation to obtain the vaccine.
How long will the vaccine protect those that receive it?
The duration of protection from the vaccine against COVID-19 is unknown. Additional assessments of the vaccine are needed to learn how often vaccination must be repeated to provide protection.
Will the vaccinees protect against the different variants of the virus that have been identified?
Health officials believe that the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines will offer protection against the current variants of the coronavirus. Research is ongoing to further study this issue.
Why should someone get the vaccine even though they are doing other things such as wearing a mask, washing their hands often, and practicing physical distancing?
Stopping a pandemic requires using all the tools available, and it is important for us all to be using as many of these tools as possible as to protect ourselves and our community. Vaccines work with the immune system so the body will be ready to fight the virus and reduce or eliminate illness if a person has been exposed. Other preventative measures, like covering the mouth and nose with a mask and staying at least six feet away from others, help reduce the chance of being exposed to the virus or spreading it. Together, the vaccine and following public health guidance will offer the best protection.
Will I need to continue wearing a mask, physical distancing and following other public health guidance after receiving a second dose of the vaccine?
Yes. While experts learn more about the protection that COVID-19 vaccines provide under real-life conditions, it is important for everyone to continue using all the tools available to help stop this pandemic (e.g., wearing face coverings, practicing physical distancing, frequent hand washing, avoiding large groups and unnecessary travel).
There is not enough information currently available to say if or when the CDC will stop recommending that people wear masks and avoid close contact with others to help prevent the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19. Experts need to understand more about the protection that COVID-19 vaccines provide before making that decision. Other factors, including how many people get vaccinated and how the virus is spreading in communities, will also affect this decision.
Is there anyone who should NOT get the vaccine?
Before receiving the vaccine, all individuals will be asked by the healthcare professional administering the vaccine if they have a fever, have an allergy, are immunocompromised or are on a medicine that affects the immune system.
Recommendations from the CDC include:
- Health experts recommend individuals receive the vaccine even if they have already had COVID; however, it is not recommended to take the vaccine during the period of COVID-19 illness itself. Individuals who tested positive for COVID-19 and are currently completing isolation must wait for at least 10 days after the positive test and upon release from isolation to obtain the vaccine.
- While people who are immunocompromised will be offered the vaccine, we do not yet know how well it works.
- Anyone recently vaccinated against another illness, such as the flu, should wait 14 days before taking this vaccine.
- The vaccine is not available to children under 16 at this time, though Pfizer is currently testing it in children as young as 12, and other studies will include even younger children.
- It is not recommended that anyone receive the vaccine who is allergic to any of the vaccine's ingredients. Until we have more information, those with a history of a severe allergic reaction, including anaphylaxis, to any vaccine or injectable medicine are being advised by medical professionals to be cautious about getting the vaccine. Any person to whom this might apply should discuss with their provider to decide how to proceed.
- For individuals who are pregnant, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends that the vaccine still be given, and that a conversation with their health care provider prior to vaccination is not required but may be helpful in guiding decision making.
Does the flu vaccine also protect you from COVID-19?
No. The coronavirus that causes COVID-19 and the influenza virus are completely different viruses, and their vaccines are also different. The flu vaccine does not protect a person from becoming infected with COVID-19, so it is important to get both vaccines to ensure protection from both viruses, especially going into the winter months. Recent studies have shown that individuals who have received a flu vaccine have a lower risk of being hospitalized if they get COVID-19.
Vaccination at Cornell
New York state has developed a phased approach to distribute COVID-19 vaccines. Cornell is working actively with Cayuga Health System (CHS) and the Tompkins County Health Department, and is strictly following New York State regulatory guidelines to identify individuals within the Cornell community who are eligible for vaccination based on the New York State Department of Health distribution criteria. The vaccines themselves are being administered by CHS.
At this time, Cornell is not requiring our employees or students to be vaccinated; however, we strongly encourage all members of our community to be vaccinated when eligible. Vaccination is key to the resolution of this global pandemic, and we hope that all take this opportunity to protect yourselves, as well as our community.
The Tompkins County Health Department has the most up-to-date information on vaccination eligibility and status for our region.
Frequently Asked Questions
When will the vaccine be available?
Hospitals have already begun receiving shipments of the vaccine. Front-line healthcare workers and nursing home residents and staff are among the first to receive it. A committee of experts organized by the CDC called the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) has issued guidance (PDF) for how states should plan and deploy the COVID-19 vaccine within their jurisdictions. Each state will take into consideration the ACIP's guidance and interpret it in the context of their own local situation and what is best for their state. The ACIP has published recommendations for a phased rollout of the vaccine.
Is the COVID-19 vaccination mandatory for any member of the Cornell community?
At this time, Cornell is not requiring our employees or students to be vaccinated; however, we strongly encourage all members of our community to be vaccinated when eligible. Vaccination is key to ending the global pandemic, and we hope that everyone takes this opportunity to protect yourselves, as well as our community.
I am eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine according to New York state's phased vaccine rollout. How do I get vaccinated?
Schedule an appointment. Employees may go to any vaccination site that has available appointments. Scheduling approaches vary by site, by county and by state. Please be aware that vaccine appointments are very limited at this time.
- To schedule an appointment at the Ithaca Mall at 40 Catherwood Drive (Old Sears store side entrance behind Best Buy), visit Cayuga Medical Center's COVID Vaccine webpage.
- To schedule an appointment at other vaccination sites in New York state by region, visit COVID-19 Vaccine: What you Need to Know.
- If residing outside NY state, visit your local health department website to learn more about vaccination appointments in your area.
Complete the New York State COVID-19 Vaccination form. Prior to receiving the vaccination, you must complete the New York State COVID-19 Vaccine Form. This form can be completed online. Once complete, you will receive a submission ID, or you can fill out the form at your vaccination site.
- Note: You must have an appointment scheduled prior to completing the NYS COVID-19 Vaccine Form.
Take all necessary documents with you to your appointment. You will be required to take the following documents to your appointment:
- Government-issued photo ID.
- Insurance card (there is no co-pay and no charge if you do not have medical insurance; however, insurance is being billed if you have it).
- If you are seeking vaccination based on a job category (as opposed to age), you must provide proof of eligibility to be vaccinated in the current phase. The documents you will need are: a Cornell ID, and documentation from Cornell identifying your eligibility. You may request this documentation by submitting a request through the Daily Check Help Desk. If you do not have this letter, and go to the Tompkins County site at the mall, you will be required to complete an attestation form at the vaccination site.
Can I receive my vaccine on work time?
Employees will be provided paid time should their vaccination appointment fall during scheduled work time. This time off will include travel to and from the distribution site.
Will the COVID-19 vaccination cost anything?
While the vaccine is free, insurance will be charged an administration fee. There is no copay, the cost is not subject to deductible and there is no charge for anyone without health insurance.
If I have been vaccinated, do I need to continue with surveillance testing?
Yes. While we know that vaccinated individuals are protected from clinical disease, there are no data yet to indicate if vaccination prevents infection with and transmission of virus. So, those vaccinated will continue regular surveillance testing at their regularly assigned frequency.
If I get vaccinated, will I test positive on future COVID-19 viral tests?
Approved vaccines will not cause a positive viral test, which are used to determine whether a person has current infection. Experts are currently looking at how COVID-19 vaccination may affect antibody testing results.
COVID-19 Vaccine Resources
- Update on Phase 1b COVID-19 vaccination eligibility (January 13)
- Phase 1B COVID-19 vaccination for in-person faculty and instructors (January 11)
- Preparing for COVID-19 vaccination rollout (January 4)