Most Common Questions about the Coronavirus Covid-19 Vaccine

Drs. Varun Phadke and Ole-Petter Hamnvik, Education Editor, NEJM Group, discuss the development of the NEJM Knowledge+ Covid-19 Vaccine Training program and what clinicians can expect to learn by taking it.

Read the full transcript here.

The NEJM Knowledge+ Covid-19 Vaccine Training course reviews the principles of vaccine development and how the Covid-19 vaccines fit into this framework. Get the Free Course

FAQs about the NEJM Knowledge+ Covid-19 Vaccine Training Program

Q: Who developed the content of the course?

A: The team of experts that went into creating the program consisted of specialists in infectious diseases, individuals specializing in vaccinology, and experts in medical education. Working with Dr. Phadke was Dr. Amy Sherman, an infectious diseases physician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. Dr. Sherman is also a researcher in vaccinology, at Precision Vaccines group at Harvard Medical School. The two of them led the team that helped contribute and review the scientific content of the course.

They collaborated very closely with Ole-Petter Hamnvik, MB BCh BAO, MMSc, Education Editor at NEJM Group and other colleagues at NEJM Group, to help structure the content. The team also included technology experts at Area9, creators of the most dependable platform for efficient, precise and high-impact learning.

Q: Who would benefit from taking the NEJM Knowledge+ Covid-19 Vaccine Training course?

A: The NEJM Covid vaccine training course would really be of interest to any clinician who has to communicate with patients or their colleagues about the vaccine. Because of the personalized nature of the program, it suits a wide range of knowledge. This includes people who are not as familiar with the science and kind of want a review of core concepts, to people who are well versed in the science, like infectious disease physicians, who want to solidify what they know, refine and build on, and test their knowledge.

The course will also be helpful for people who have medical training but not necessarily a medical degree such as nurses who are on the front lines in administering the vaccines medical assistance and those sorts of other medical professionals that are helping with the rollout of the vaccine.

Q: What are some of the other questions or misconceptions about the vaccines that are addressed in this course?

A: The following are a few common questions that are addressed in the course.

“How did we develop such effective vaccines so quickly?” is a common question. In the public and among the healthcare community and having a good sense of how we were able to make vaccines so quickly, in particular, that mRNA vaccines is a topic covered in the course.

“What about the quality and the rigor that goes into studying these vaccines and monitoring their safety, even after they have been authorized and released for use to the public?” Learners will learn that safety monitoring doesn’t stop after the clinical trials are over it continues in a very rigorous fashion.

“What patient populations are eligible for the vaccine?” The course addresses which patient populations are eligible for the vaccine including patient populations who are sometimes restricted from receiving other licensed vaccines, such as immunocompromised patients or pregnant patients or elderly patients. The course addresses those indications for the vaccine and what data is available quite thoroughly in the course.

Q: How will the course keep up with the constantly changing landscape of Covid-19 Vaccines?

A: We plan to update the course every two weeks as data emerge, and that includes data about content that’s already in the course.

For example, if new data emerges about the mRNA new vaccines, for example, the durability of protection or the immune response which we will learn more about as more time passes, and as more and more people have been vaccinated, we will update the information in the course to include the changes.

We also plan to incorporate data about vaccines that have not yet been authorized. There are a variety of other vaccine technologies, not mRNA, and other vaccine technologies which are approaching authorization in this country, or are under review for authorization in this country, or have been authorized in other countries. And as part of our process of updating content for the course, we intend to create new modules that will specifically address those vaccine technologies.

Importantly, those modules will mirror the structure of the previous module so that users will feel very comfortable adding knowledge of new content and it will be structured in a very similar way to what they learned so that it adds to that foundation.

We have committed to a continuous process of updating the course, incorporating new studies and new material, as it becomes available, and presenting that new data to the learners. In this course, learners might find that they go back two weeks later, or a month later, and now there are new modules there are new learning objectives to be mastered.

Q: Is the course free?

A: This free Covid-19 Training course will be available through June 30, 2021, unless there are major changes or advances in the development and administration of Covid-19 vaccines. Content will be reviewed and updated every 2 weeks.

Just as has allowed all of their articles on Covid-19 to be available for free, NEJM Knowledge+ knows this is a situation where having access to update one’s knowledge is essential. We believe the more synthesized material that is presented in this course, will add a valuable resource for healthcare professionals.

In addition to the learning program, there are lists of additional resources, including a list of frequently asked questions that are answered by an infectious diseases specialist, Dr. Paul Sax, that really expand on the course and address several other practical questions that learners might have that were not addressed in the course for due to time constraints.

NEJM Knowledge+ Covid-19 Vaccine Training Program Video Interview Transcript


My name is Varun Phadke and I’m an infectious disease physician at Emory University in Atlanta. I’m also an educator and involved in the teaching of microbiology and infectious diseases for students and fellows and residents and also completed a T 32 fellowship in vaccinology here at Emory and now work as a co-investigator in our vaccine clinical trial unit.

Hi my name is OP Hamnvik. I am the education editor at NEJM Group. I’m also an educator in endocrinology where I run the fellowship at Brigham and Women’s hospital where I’m also a clinician.


Varun Phadke: Why did we develop this course? Since the beginning of the pandemic, I think it’s been a challenge for clinicians to find straightforward high-yield, reliable content to make decisions and communicate with patients and their colleagues, and I think this course really adds to that space, especially for the vaccine rollout where I think having a firm grasp of the science is really important to maintain vaccine confidence and communicate effectively about these products.

Ole-Petter Hamnvik: And Dr. Phadke I think what’s so unique about the situation we’re in is that we are trying to deliver a very new product, a very new vaccine to you know, on a population scale which is fairly unique in our lifetimes, so I think that all sort of adds to the impetus and to the importance for clinicians to really understand what it is that we are asking of our colleagues and our patients.

Varun Phadke: Yeah absolutely I would completely agree with that, I mean this is a new disease that no clinician learned about in their training. These vaccines, many of the vaccines, are based on technologies that we didn’t learn about in our medical training. The mRNA technology is not the basis of any existing licensed vaccine, and so I think having a course that delivers that content in an easy-to-digest way really solidifies whatever preexisting knowledge the user might have coming into the course, and is really important.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, we have all felt perpetually behind when it comes to knowing the latest science about Covid-19 and now Covid-19 vaccines. And that’s because of the speed at which data is coming out and the different ways that content is coming to us, no longer just in medical journals, but pre-print servers and social media and press releases and government reports and so on, and the amount of information, probably exceeds the way that most clinicians have learned about any new topic in the past. And that married with the increased amount of work that clinicians are just doing, I think has made it very challenging, and for colleagues of mine who are struggling with finding a reliable but easy and straightforward resource to go to I think this course is one tool in that list of available resources that I could point them to quickly get up to speed and test their own knowledge and what they’ve been able to absorb over the past year about the science and feel confident that after they finished it that they’re on the on a level playing field with people who are at the cutting edge.


Varun Phadke: What can clinicians expect to learn from this course? So, the course runs the whole gamut about vaccines and Covid vaccines in particular, so it starts with an overview of core concepts about SARS-CoV-2 virology which I think is important to understand how the vaccines work.

Then there’s a module about the vaccine development process, which I think is new information for most clinicians, it’s not something that we learned about in a lot of detail in Medical School or other healthcare profession’s training programs. Then there are dedicated modules about the specific vaccine products.

Ole-Petter Hamnvik: And maybe I’ll add as someone who actually does not have in-depth knowledge about vaccines and vaccine development or Covid-19 or SARS-CoV-2 it was really fun to work with Dr. Phadke and Dr. Sherman to learn what is this process like, and you know what goes into creating a vaccine and how you know what sort of vaccines do we have available like what sort of technologies are being used for the vaccines that we have available already and how do some of these new platforms differ. And it really has given me a different view when I hear press releases or when I hear data being presented, or when I hear or see the headline in a newspaper about a vaccine. I really feel like I have a deeper understanding of what happened before this headline appeared in a newspaper. And perhaps what are some of the caveats to this headline you know, has the data been published, yet? Or if not, you know, can I trust this data? Or do I need to wait until we get the published studies?

Varun Phadke: Yeah well, one thing I wanted to kind of add on to what OP said is in terms of kind of how to interpret the barrage of information that we’re getting every day about vaccines is, I think, one major priority for us when we develop the content for the course was grounding it in publicly available peer reviewed data, including data that had been published in medical journals or data submitted by vaccine manufacturers to scientific agencies, like the FDA or public health agencies, and I think there were two reasons for that one is to be transparent about what the course was based on so that users would feel comfortable accessing the source data for the knowledge, but also so that clinicians would feel confident that what they were learning was, you know, the consensus opinion of the scientific community, so that they would then be able to better interpret things like press releases and social media posts about vaccines and appropriately contextualize them and discuss them with their patients in an informed way, so I think that was a really important part of the course and its development.

I think, just having some familiarity with the terms about the clinical trial process and the vaccine development process is really valuable for contextualizing that information so that when a new vaccine does emerge and become authorized, the user feels comfortable in the steps that led to that.


Varun Phadke: So, I think empowering clinicians with a resource like this that is easily accessible can be done in a very small amount of time to allow them to have those conversations in a really informed way, was key I think that’s one of the major objectives of the course. I think the interface is actually really fun because it asks you to sort of self-assess your knowledge before you take the course. And then, after each question, and in that way, the course actually adapts to you in real-time. And that allows you to focus on knowledge gaps and fill them in in a very directed fashion, and I think that is that’s exactly the kinds of educational sort of strategies that we do in the classroom, and so I think that’s another reason that the course would be appealing to health care providers.

Ole-Petter Hamnvik: When we set forth to create this course, we started off by talking to experts and to educational experts also, to create a list of learning objectives, and these are very granular learning objectives, so we have very specific information that we want learners to take away from the course. Once we had the list of the learning objectives we created questions or as we call them, probes. But the questions are really trying to assess whether this learning objective is something that the user, the learner, already has mastered or if this is something that is new to them.

In addition to answering the actual questions, learners will also indicate whether they are very confident about their knowledge or if this was a wild guess. And, based on whether you got the question right or wrong, and your confidence level, the learning engine will decide whether this is something that you have knowledge about, that you’re confident about, and it won’t keep harping on and trying to teach you that point, or if this is something that you is really new to you that you don’t understand yet, in which case we will present to you the information in sort of an interactive format or in a very clear format, where we can hammer home the main content from that learning objective.


Varun Phadke: I think, recognizing that Covid-19 vaccines that mRNA formulations are safe products that can be administered to virtually everyone and are very effective against or for preventing Covid-19 is one major takeaway of the course. Another takeaway is that the science behind the vaccines was not a short-cut, in any way, the quality of the studies underpinning how they work, who they should be used in, and how effective they are, is very high quality and can be part of the messaging when clinicians are talking about these products with their patients.

When we designed the learning objectives for the course and the probes after those learning objectives we wrote them in a way to reflect the kinds of questions that clinicians are actually getting from patients and their colleagues and some examples would be:

“Can I give the vaccine to a pregnant woman or a woman who is of childbearing potential?”

“Can I give the vaccine to an immunocompromised patient?”

“How is it that we made the vaccine so quickly?”

“How do the two mNRA vaccines differ from one another and is one better than the other?”

Those are very practical questions that people are asking, and we wanted the learning objectives to match those and the content of the course is designed to answer those questions very directly, so I think providers and learners who take the course will feel after they have finished it like “Oh, I can now answer those questions with confidence because the course kind of pose them to me directly”.