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  • Betsy Calder

How college students feel about the COVID vaccine

To get or not to get? For many, it's been a big question.

Choosing whether to get the COVID-19 vaccine was a no-brainer for many college students - especially those eager to get on campus and get back to a normal college life.

But not every college student was gung ho to get the vaccine, and for many the constant bombardment of information - and misinformation - made it difficult to decide.

Hence, college campuses have remained vulnerable to the fast-spreading virus, especially as new variants such as Delta and Omicron have come on the scene and moved the goal posts once again.

“College campuses are an ideal festering ground for COVID-19 and other infectious diseases to thrive,” explained Dr. Kirsten K. Calder, M.D.

While healthcare workers and university administrations are urging students to think twice before swearing off the vaccine, some are feeling the pressure to get vaccinated.

But in a generation that is heavily influenced by their fear of missing out, it’s interesting that so many are still skeptical.

COVID-19 Vaccine Timeline (all information from WHO and CDC)

  • January 2020: First confirmations of the first United States case of COVID-19.

  • December 11, 2020: The USA Food and Drug Administration issued an emergency use authorization of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine in people aged 16 years and older.

  • December 18, 2020: The USA FDA issued an EUA for the Moderna COVID-19 Vaccine.

  • December 2020: First US COVID-19 vaccine was distributed to a NYC nurse.

  • February 2021: WHO hosted a global consultation to discuss approaches to assess variants’ effect on vaccine efficacy, attended by approximately 1,400 participants.

  • April 2021: Johnson and Johnson - “Janssen” - Vaccine is paused by the FDA for connections to reports of blood clots in patients. This pause was lifted later in the same month and the vaccine was available again to the public.

  • August 2021: The FDA approved the Pfizer-BioNTech for those 16 years of age and older.

  • October 2021: FDA approves Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for ages 5 to 11.

  • Nov. 19, 2021: FDA authorizes COVID booster for every adult (Moderna and Pfizer)

  • December 2021: Omicron variant has been detected in every U.S. state. While milder in symptoms, the variant spreads faster than any previous version, and it begins causing problems as schools and colleges are set to reopen after the holidays. Booster shots highly recommended for college students as symptoms are much milder in people vaccinated and boosted.

What you’re missing out on

College teenagers and young adults have very busy schedules. Between having a schedule with back-to-back classes, working at internships and managing their social lives, there’s only so much they can get done in a day.

At the College of Charleston, students who cannot prove vaccination are not required to do weekly or monthly testing. However, they are strongly encouraged to - unlike many other schools. Last semester however, students were selected at random to be tested weekly.

At Concordia University of Irvine (California), student athletes who are not vaccinated were required to be tested three times per week.

“I am constantly getting my nose swabbed three times per week and have to wear a mask whenever I am on campus or at a game,” explained Delaney DeCinces, a junior on the beach volleyball team.

Adding those three testing times a week can be a lot of time taken away from other activities. Students could be missing out on time to study, hang out with friends and even get work experience. Simple things that bring students relief and joy are getting taken away as they have to make time for COVID testing.

For a lot of major cities now - Los Angeles and New York City for example - no one can get into clubs, restaurants or even a yoga class without being vaccinated.

“You basically cannot do anything if you don't have proof of your vaccine card - no ands, ifs or buts,” Kay Baker, a senior at the College of Charleston, explained after a recent trip to New York City.

Traveling has also become an issue for students who don’t want to be vaccinated. Baker traveled to NYC for her sister's birthday in October of 2021, and noticed some of her sister's friends were unable to make it. It was due to their vaccination status.

Sophia Chauvin, a senior at CofC, went to NYC at the same time as Baker. Chauvin expressed how relieving it was to be vaccinated.

“It makes it a lot easier to go out and less stressful, all you have to do is show a photo of your vaccine card and you don't have to worry about a mask or being at high risk for contracting COVID-19, it finally feels like you can go out and be yourself again,” Chauvin explained.

Where COVID information went wrong

Loads of misinformation and disinformation were thrown American’s way from the getgo with COVID-19. In early 2020 during the beginning of the pandemic, Americans were promised this would be a two week battle with the disease, then it was promised to be gone by Easter and now the college students who were finishing their sophomore years at the start of this pandemic are completing the fall semester of their senior years.

“Bash his top public health officials like Dr. Fauci and Dr. Birxi” Dr. Robert T Ball Jr MD explained how with the continued efforts from former President Trump there was a great amount of mistrust with the government.

This spilled onto the news networks and into the homes of Americans nationwide.

With widespread distrust, the idea of requiring vaccines set some state officials over the edge. With the subtle hint or rumor that ‘Vaccine Passports’ - which are a form of proof of vaccination for entry in places that range from restaurants and clubs to NFL arenas and concerts - multiple states banned vaccine requirements and passports.

The media influences a lot of what Americans think, see and do, and “there have now been over six billion COVID-19 vaccine doses administered worldwide without major complications - the social media disinformation re COVID-19 vaccines can fill volumes,” explained Dr. Ball.

“I wish that people would understand that vaccines still offer immense benefit even in those people who get breakthrough COVID infections,” Dr. Calder expressed when referring to those who haven't gotten vaccinated yet.

Colleges, businesses grapple with 'requiring' vaccine

Although there are medical and religious exemptions, a full list can be found here of colleges that required COVID-19 vaccinations to be submitted before the beginning of the fall 2021 semester.

Professionals like Dr. Ball and Dr. Calder agree that if a student cannot be vaccinated for some reason - which should be a medical exemption - then they should be put in an online learning environment. Specifically in settings where social distancing is not an option.

“Doesn’t believe in anyone requiring a vaccine - I think that is crossing a dangerous line, however I do believe everyone should educate themselves on the basic science of the vaccine and open up themselves to the idea of it” Olivia Lombardi, a senior at the College of Charleston, explained

Delaney DeCinces, a junior and athlete at Concordia University of Irvine (California), has very strong opinions on the vaccine and making it g required.

“I think it violates everything that our country stands for and does not allow students and families to think for themselves,” DeCinces said. “Making the decision to get vaccinated looks different from each individual and having every person comply because they have to, makes no sense,” DeCinces shared after hearing that universities were requiring students to be vaccinated.

Not being vaccinated put some college students in a pool to be tested weekly, especially athletes who were traveling to and from other universities.

“I have to get my nose swabbed three times a week as well as wear a mask constantly,” said DeCinces. “I understand the fear to some extent, but if fans at games are not wearing a mask and a majority of the student population is not wearing a mask, it should not be drilled into the athlete to have to.”

Since it has been discovered that it is still very much possible to contract COVID-19 even when vaccinated - and perhaps even more possible with the recently discovered Omicron variant - students have taken a step back from being so rushed to become vaccinated.

But as the CDC and federal government try to stave off another wave of overcrowded hospitals and schools going online, they are urging everyone to get vaccinated.

University of Southern California junior Olivia Horton believes universities still need to be very understanding of how they treat students who don't get vaccinated - particularly if there is a health or religious reason for not doing so.

“Ultimately students that are vaccinated can still get COVID, so pushing students out of their schools because they aren’t vaccinated due to their beliefs or underlying health issues is unethical and unconstitutional,” University of Southern California junior Olivia Horton believes.

However, vaccines have proved time and time again to be useful and powerful.

Schools and states that are not allowing vaccine mandates and requiring vaccines are few and far between however. Schools in the highest COVID-19 infected states are not requiring vaccines, but in the Northeast there are 253 schools requiring vaccination compared to the 90 in the south that are as well.

“Bottom line is that vaccines have been mandated for many, many years in public schools; vaccines have literally made diseases like Smallpox, Diphtheria, Polio and things of the past,” Dr. Calder stressed heavily how what schools are doing is not new or wrong.

“Getting vaccinated is the best choice someone can make, not only to protect themselves from the severity of COVID, but to protect others,” Lombardi said. “I fully believe in the effectiveness of the vaccines we have developed thus far.”

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