Important Update about COVID-19 Vaccines

December 21, 2020

Dear GW Community:

With the good news of emergency use authorizations for both the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines, we have reason to be optimistic about 2021. As you know, health care workers will be the first to receive the vaccine. Our clinical enterprise is administering the Pfizer vaccine to our health care workers, and we have played an integral role in demonstrating the safety and efficacy of the Moderna vaccine by leading a clinical trial site. We owe our gratitude to the many members of our community, including our physicians, researchers, nurses, and staff, who are working every day to keep us healthy and safe, and it is wonderful to, in turn, be able to take this important step to assure their wellbeing while they are taking care of the rest of us.

Given this recent milestone in the pandemic, we want to address questions we are hearing from our university community about vaccine availability and distribution, and our planning efforts.

First, we want to emphasize that even with two authorized vaccines, availability is extremely limited, and we expect that, for most of us, access will be limited for several months into 2021. Following the protocols established by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and DC Health, the GW Hospital and Medical Faculty Associates have started to distribute the first phase of vaccines to the highest risk members of our health care teams. But even for this relatively small group of health care providers, we do not yet have sufficient vaccine available nor a clear timeline for when we will have it. We do know that, as more doses become available, D.C., Maryland, and Virginia have plans that prioritize certain groups for vaccination, beginning with the most vulnerable populations, such as additional health care and essential workers, those in assisted living, those who have severe underlying health conditions, older adults, and others at increased risk of virus exposure. These distribution plans and timelines vary state by state and depend on many factors that may continue to evolve. Therefore, unfortunately, we do not yet know when the vaccine will be available to you. We will need to continue to be patient.

As vaccine distribution unfolds more widely in the coming months, we emphasize four additional critical points. We advise:

  1. You immediately accept the vaccine as soon as it is offered to you or becomes available to you. This is especially important for individuals with chronic diseases or who are otherwise part of a high-risk group. The vaccine will be provided free of charge at all sites, but you may be required to pay an administration fee depending on the site and your insurance status.
  2. You and your family accept the vaccine through whatever source first becomes available to you, whether your physician, local pharmacy, another place of work, school, etc.
  3. You make note of which vaccine you received and remember to return to your provider for the second dose of that specific vaccine.
  4. You should not wait for a university-wide initiative to provide you with the vaccine. Currently, it is uncertain when vaccine could be made available to the broader GW community. Should GW be allocated vaccine in the future, we will mobilize our GW Occupational Health program run by the GW MFA along with Colonial Health to mount a distribution campaign.

As always, we are fortunate to have world-class medical, nursing, public health, and safety expertise to oversee such a process.

Finally, we cannot overstate how important it is to remain committed to the public health measures we know slow the spread of the virus, especially during the holidays. This means wearing a mask, distancing, and limiting gatherings and travel. As well, in spring we will continue periodic testing and symptom monitoring of our own campus students, faculty, and staff. These measures will still be necessary for some time even after the vaccine becomes widely available.

This year has been like no other and we know that many members of our community have suffered, either directly or indirectly. While we are seeing positive signs heading into 2021, it is clear we will need to continue to be flexible, resilient—and patient—as vaccines are distributed. We will periodically provide vaccine updates on the university’s COVID-19 website.

In the meantime, we wish you all happy and healthy holidays, and we look forward to seeing you in the New Year. Stay safe and stay well.


Lynn Goldman
Dean, Milken Institute School of Public Health

Barbara Bass
Vice President for Health Affairs; Dean, School of Medicine and Health Sciences; Chief Executive Officer, GW Medical Faculty Associates

Scott Burnotes
Vice President for Safety and Facilities