Carnegie Mellon University

COVID-19 Updates

Information and resources for the CMU community

Scotty with mask: Tartans All In everywhere


Last updated: 6/16/21

Importance, Safety, Eligibility and Distribution

According to the Pennsylvania Department of Health, stopping a pandemic requires using all the tools available including getting the COVID-19 Vaccine. Vaccines work with your immune system so your body will be ready to fight the virus if you are exposed. Other steps, like wearing facial coverings and physical distancing, help reduce your chance of being exposed to the virus or spreading it to others.

It's important to recognize that long-standing systemic health and social inequities have put many people from racial and ethnic minority groups at increased risk of getting sick and dying from COVID-19. The Pennsylvania Department of Health has worked throughout the COVID-19 pandemic to address these disparities within not only racial and ethnic minority groups, but other marginalized populations. 

Together, COVID-19 vaccination and following the CDC's recommendations to protect yourself and others offer the best protection from COVID-19.

Visit the CMU Vaccine page to learn more.

Researchers were not starting from scratch when they learned about SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. Scientists have been studying coronaviruses for over 50 years and they had existing data on the structure, genome and life cycle of this type of virus.

According to the CDC, the COVID-19 vaccines being used have gone through rigorous studies to ensure they are as safe as possible. Systems that allow CDC to watch for safety issues are in place across the entire country.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has granted Emergency Use Authorizations for COVID-19 vaccines that have been shown to meet rigorous safety criteria and be effective as determined by data from the manufacturers and findings from large clinical trials. Watch a video describing the emergency use authorization.

Clinical trials for all vaccines must first show they meet rigorous criteria for safety and effectiveness before any vaccine, including COVID-19 vaccines, can be authorized or approved for use. The known and potential benefits of a COVID-19 vaccine must outweigh the known and potential risks of the vaccine. Learn more about how federal partners are ensuring the safety of COVID-19 vaccines in the United States.

We know the pause in distribution of this vaccine gave rise to important questions about safety.

Since the April 13, 2021 announcement, the CDC and FDA partnered to complete a thorough safety review of the J&J vaccine. They conducted extensive outreach to providers and clinicians to discuss the extremely rare incidence of blood clots that had been reported.

On April 23, 2021, the CDC and FDA released a joint statement declaring use of the J&J COVID-19 Vaccine should be resumed in the United States: “The FDA and CDC have confidence that this vaccine is safe and effective in preventing COVID-19. The FDA has determined that the available data show that the vaccine’s known and potential benefits outweigh its known and potential risks in individuals 18 years of age and older."

All people living in the United States age 12 and older are now eligible to schedule a vaccine appointment.

On May 12, 2021, the CDC director adopted the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices’ (ACIP) recommendation that endorsed the safety and effectiveness of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine and its use in 12- through 15-year-old adolescents. The CDC now recommends that this vaccine be used among this population, and providers may begin vaccinating them right away.

Yes, anyone living in the United States age 12 and older, including international students, are now eligible to schedule a COVID-19 vaccine appointment. A passport or other photo identification will suffice when checking in to receive your vaccine. 

According to the CDC, getting a COVID-19 vaccine:

  • Helps keep you from getting COVID-19 and is a safer way to help build protection

  • Allows you to start doing more (once you are fully vaccinated) 

  • Serves as an important tool to help stop the pandemic

Learn more from the CDC about the Benefits of Getting a COVID-19 Vaccine.

The Pennsylvania Department of Health encourages college students to get vaccinated as quickly as possible. Choosing to get a vaccine marks an important step to protect your own health and the health of everyone around you as we continue to unite against COVID-19. Students should work to schedule their vaccination appointment at their earliest convenience at a location closest to them.

If students return home prior to receiving their second vaccine dose of a two-dose series, they should work with a provider in their community to get that second dose at the appropriate time. Students should remember to bring their vaccination card with them to their second dose appointment. Also, it is important students get the same vaccine (Moderna or Pfizer) for each of the two doses in the series.

College students returning home at the end of the semester, even if that means to another state, should seek a second dose of vaccine (if applicable) so they are fully protected against COVID-19. They should state that they cannot return to the same provider because of logistical challenges.

Learn more on this fact sheet on the Vaccination of College Students (PDF) from the PA Department of Health.

Requirements for Fall 2021

Consistent with scientific evidence on the importance of vaccine adoption to control spread of the virus, to the extent permissible by law, Carnegie Mellon University will require all enrolled students to be vaccinated for COVID-19, effective this fall semester.

This policy will apply to all undergraduate and graduate students in U.S.-based programs. CMU regularly updates the vaccines required by university policy, which will be updated by July 15 for the 2021-22 academic year. CMU’s global locations will communicate vaccine requirements to its student bodies separately consistent with their regional contexts.

Students will be required to provide documentation of their vaccination prior to the start of the fall semester. The process for doing so will be communicated at a later date. As we develop the mechanism for gathering this information, we will do so in a manner that protects the privacy of our students, as we do with all medical records.

CMU recognizes there may be some population of students who will not be vaccinated when the fall semester begins. We will secure student vaccination opportunities in the weeks leading up to the start of the fall to ensure all students have access to approved vaccines. For these students and for others who receive approved exemption from the vaccine requirement, later this summer we will communicate mitigation requirements that will apply in order for them to participate in campus life.

Consistent with federal and state law, CMU will consider medical or religious exemptions to the vaccine requirement for students. Details on the process to request an exemption will be announced this summer.

We understand that many students may receive vaccines approved in other countries that have not yet been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for use in the United States. We are working with medical experts to inform our decisions. We will provide ongoing updates on the COVID website throughout the summer as more data becomes available to guide our planning and options to support our students living abroad. At this time, we expect that any vaccines that receive the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Emergency Use Listing will meet our requirements.

As of June 1, 2021, the WHO has listed Pfizer/BioNTech, Astrazeneca-SK Bio, Serum Institute of India, Janssen (Johnson & Johnson), Moderna, Sinopharm and Sinovac COVID-19 vaccines for emergency use. 

We are currently studying a potential requirement of vaccination for all Pittsburgh-based faculty and staff, and after conferring with various stakeholder groups, will communicate more details in the weeks ahead. Consistent with federal and state law, CMU will consider medical or religious exemptions to any vaccine requirement for faculty and staff. 

We will also be coordinating with our other global locations about requirements for their faculty and staff. In the meantime, we continue to encourage everyone to become vaccinated as soon as possible, and not to wait for a decision on whether vaccinations will be required for faculty and staff.

Authorized Vaccines, Mitigation, Quarantining and Tartan Testing

Currently, there are three vaccines authorized by the FDA in the United States recommended to prevent COVID-19:

According to the FDA, the most common side effects from the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine are pain, redness or swelling at the injection site, fatigue, headache, chills, muscle pain and joint pain. These symptoms typically last a day or two. This FDA fact sheet on the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine (PDF) has more information.

The FDA reports that the most commonly reported side effects of the Moderna COVID-19 Vaccine, which typically lasted several days, were pain at the injection site, tiredness, headache, muscle pain, chills, joint pain, swollen lymph nodes in the same arm as the injection, nausea and vomiting and fever. Of note, more people experienced these side effects after the second dose than after the first dose. This FDA fact sheet on the Moderna COVID-19 Vaccine (PDF) has more information.

Johnson & Johnson
The most commonly reported side effects of the Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen COVID-19 Vaccine were pain at the injection site, headache, fatigue, muscle aches and nausea. Most of these side effects occurred within one to two days following vaccination and were mild to moderate in severity and lasted one to two days. This FDA fact sheet (updated 4/23/21) on the Johnson & Johnson Janssen COVID-19 Vaccine (PDF) has more information. 

CMU accepts all World Health Organization (WHO) authorized vaccines, in addition to the FDA authorized vaccines in the U.S.

As of June 1, 2021, the WHO has listed Pfizer/BioNTech, Astrazeneca-SK Bio, Serum Institute of India, Janssen (Johnson & Johnson), Moderna, Sinopharm and Sinovac COVID-19 vaccines for emergency use. 

According to the CDC, you should be vaccinated regardless of whether you already had COVID-19. Experts do not yet know how long you are protected from getting sick again after recovering from COVID-19. Even if you have already recovered from COVID-19, it is possible — although rare — that you could be infected with the virus that causes COVID-19 again.

Learn more from the CDC about why getting vaccinated is a safer way to build protection than getting infected.

On June 4, 2021, the CDC released guidance for Institutions of Higher Education relaxing requirements for the use of facial coverings and physical distancing by individuals who have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

Fully vaccinated individuals are no longer required to wear a facial covering on campus, though they are welcome to continue doing so at their discretion. Individuals who are not fully vaccinated for COVID-19 or who work in health care (conducting clinical work), child care or public transportation settings must wear a facial covering (sufficient to cover the nose and mouth) at all times as required by PA and/or CDC regulations, and whenever physical distancing of 6 feet or more cannot be maintained outdoors. 

Exceptions include: While eating or drinking, if working outdoors during hot and humid conditions, or when alone in a private space, such as an office, assigned residence hall room, or enclosed vehicle. If you cannot wear a facial covering due to a medical condition, please contact either the Office of Disability Resources (students) or HR Disability Services  (employees) to request an exemption and arrange appropriate accommodations.

The CDC reports that when you've been fully vaccinated (received your final vaccine dose at least two weeks ago), you do not have to quarantine if you have been identified as a close contact of a COVID-19 probable or positive individual.

Anyone who is not fully vaccinated who is identified as a close contact with a positive COVID-19 case must stay home. Employees, and students who have receive a positive COVID-19 diagnosis, or have had close contact with a COVID-19 positive individual must inform Community Health and Well-Being at, and follow any applicable self-isolation or quarantine requirements.

Visitors, contractors and other persons who are planning to be on campus and received a positive COVID-19 diagnosis or close contact exposure within 10 days of their time on campus must inform their local supervisor or CMU host. The supervisor or CMU host will inform Community Health and Well-Being at to initiate communication protocols.

If you are fully vaccinated, you do not need to participate in Tartan Testing, the university’s COVID-19 asymptomatic testing program. All faculty, staff and students coming to campus who have not been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 must participate weekly in Tartan Testing.

For students arriving for the 2021 fall semester (regardless of vaccination status), you will need to complete one Tartan Test within 24 hours of your arrival, and another Tartan Test five days following your initial test. Following receipt of your negative test results, and if you are fully vaccinated, you will no longer be expected to participate in Tartan Testing. If you receive a positive test result, you will not be expected to participate in Tartan Testing for 90 days after that positive result.

Tartan Testing is also available for fully vaccinated CMU community members who desire a weekly test.