Thousands of healthcare students have been vaccinated

Chatwan Mongkol, Associate News Editor

As COVID-19 vaccines in Connecticut started to roll out, around 2,000 Quinnipiac University health sciences students are among the top priority to be vaccinated, COVID-19 Task Force Senior Medical Adviser Dr. David Hill said.

Students in healthcare programs are eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine in the first phase. (Contributed Karenna Downs)

Phase 1a of the vaccine rollout began in early January for healthcare personnel, long-term care facility residents and medical first responders. Students in physical assistance, occupational therapy, physical therapy, nursing and medical programs are eligible in the first phase.

“The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) has set up a system called the vaccine administration management system, VAMS, so we uploaded (healthcare students’) names and that allowed them to make their appointments,” Hill said. “I think most of our students in that initial cohort should have been vaccinated.”

Among those qualified, junior nursing major Renata Abiali said the vaccine gives her another level of security for her med-surg and pediatrics clinical.

“PPE (personal protective equipment) and distancing are effective, but having the vaccine is the next level of prevention and care,” Abiali said. “It makes walking into clinical more calming. I can interact with patients without feeling worried.”

Nursing students who are not practicing in a clinical setting like sophomore Karenna Downs are also qualified for the vaccine.

“My immediate reaction was pure relief,” Downs said. “I knew this would mean I, myself, would be one step closer to a stronger immune system against the virus, but I also knew I’d be doing my part to reaching herd immunity.”

Both Abiali and Downs got their first dosage of the Moderna vaccine last month. They faced similar side effects including arm soreness, fatigue and headaches. Downs said nothing was too serious. Abiali also said those symptoms are expected after the vaccination.

Another sophomore nursing major, Helen Tran, has already received two doses of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine through her job as she works as a neighborhood resident assistant at McLean, a senior resident center in Simsbury, Connecticut.

The vaccine committee at her workplace provided her with information.

“I was excited, and (the committee) seemed to be working very hard to make it happen,” Tran said. “I had to make an appointment because the vaccine committee would call me, and it would say like this is your first appointment and I had to show up.”

Tran received her first dose on Jan. 6.

“My arm was a little bit sore, and there was a bruise on the second day, which was new because I never had a bruise for a vaccine before,” Tran said. “But it didn’t really bother me, I didn’t get any headaches and I wasn’t tired, so I was pretty surprised, because I do get headaches usually.”

Even though the first dose did not affect how Tran functioned throughout the day, she had a cold at the end of the day after she got her second dose on Jan. 27. She knew chills were going to be a side effect, but she did not know how cold she would get.

“When I was sleeping, I wore three socks, three pants, four shirts (and) a hat. And I even wore gloves or hand warmers inside,” Tran said. “That was like how cold I was, and I’ve never been so cold my entire life.”

Besides having trouble waking up the next morning, Tran said the cold lasted only one night.

Despite the 95% effective rate of Pfizer vaccine and 94.1% of Moderna vaccine, Quinnipiac national poll revealed that only 20% of Americans are very confident in the federal government’s ability to oversee the safety of COVID-19 vaccines.

Tran got the vaccine without doubting its safety or effectiveness. She said that was because she has no allergic reactions, but she said she would question it for her brother who has a lot of allergies.

“We’re looking at 95% protection, that’s really great,” Hill said. “That’s as good as any vaccine we have out there and probably better than most because the tests were done in the elderly (and) done with those with chronic medical conditions.”

Hill further explained that even though the vaccines’ effectiveness may be decreased a bit with new variants of the virus, which are 40 to 60% easier to spread, they can still prevent severe illnesses, hospitalization and death.

Although many students have been infected or received the vaccine, Hill said nothing will be different now.

“You still have to undergo quarantine. You still have to wear your mask,” Hill said. “If we have enough people who are vaccinated and we can really see the effectiveness of herd immunity, then things may loosen up a bit.”

Connecticut is now in the second phase of vaccine rollout, in which individuals above the age of 75 and residents and staff of selected congregate settings, excluding college dormitories, are eligible. The upcoming phases for individuals age 65 to 74, essential workers, including educators, and those with underlying medical conditions with increased risk for severe illness are underway.

Hill said a challenge the state faces is the allocation of the vaccines as it received 45,000 to 50,000 doses a week, which could take several months to complete each phase.

“Our student population, even though they’re living in congregate settings, will really most likely have to wait for the summer months to be vaccinated,” Hill said.

It remains undecided if the university will be requiring students to be vaccinated before their return in the fall semester. However, Hill explained how the university requires students to get meningococcal vaccines unless they have contraindication or special reason, he believes similar policy will be applied with COVID-19 vaccination.

“I would think that will be the same for (the) COVID vaccine, if it’s widely available, and it looks like it continues to be safe, and we are seeing evidence,” Hill said.

The evidence Hill refers to is preliminary evidence from England, in which the country is set to vaccinate the entire population in the coming months. It suggests herd immunity as a result of the vaccine.

“This gets at the debate about whether we would require a vaccine if all of Hamden is vaccinated. And we have got good herd immunity in Hamden, but none of our students in Quinnipiac have been vaccinated. Where’s COVID going to happen,” Hill said. “These viruses are always going to find the least common denominator.”

As the vaccines are still under the emergency use authorization, Downs disagrees with the idea of requiring the vaccination in the next school year. However, she encourages other students to get it because it will help the community and the country reach herd immunity and save many lives.

“If the vaccine is widely available, I would hope the school would encourage those who can (or) are willing to be vaccinated, but a mandate for (the) vaccine does not seem plausible at this time,” Downs said.

To make the community members feel safer, Abiali also recommends students to get the vaccine.

“This is the next step in safety, and it can’t just be a few people but entire communities,” Abiali said. “The vaccine will help us move forward, and if you have the option to not only help yourself but everyone you may come in contact with, I think that opportunity should be taken.”

Because everyone has different circumstances, Tran advises others to do their own research and make their own judgements 

“My experience was not bad, it didn’t affect how I function as a human being,” Tran said.