The conventional framework for COVID-19 vaccination is college students, as the youngest age group, will get inoculated last, behind frontline workers, senior citizens, essential non-healthcare workers, and other more at-risk groups. But some students with an essential frontline job or a medical condition are eligible. Last week, certain medical conditions such as asthma and diabetes became eligible. As a result, the vaccinated student population is growing.
Vaccinated students can expect more protection against the virus, but UR’s policies and guidelines remain the same for vaccinated students. The daily health notice in the “For Students” section of @Rochester emails now includes the statement: “Even as some individuals are now receiving their first or second dose of the vaccine, these practices to prevent the transmission of the virus cannot be relaxed.”
Getting vaccinated is not easy. As of Feb. 21, only one vaccination site in the state of New York outside of New York City had available appointments through April 16; that location is in Potsdam, nearly a 4-hour drive from Rochester.
Senior Grace Romania, who recently became eligible due to asthma, scheduled her vaccine appointment for March 9 in Utica. While the distance is inconvenient, she went with the first appointment available on the vaccination website. Both Romania and sophomore Evan Volkin said that signing up online was very difficult.
“I really worry about [first-years] or sophomores or anyone who is compromised at the University who doesn’t have adequate car access to drive potentially hours across the state,” she said. Romania also expressed frustration with the lack of communication from the University about helping students get vaccinated.
The vaccine itself can cause people to feel sick for a day. The University now offers a one-time paid sick day to employees dealing with the side effects of the vaccine.
“[The] physical vaccine needle felt like a normal flu shot, but the post symptoms were pretty rough for me,” junior Anna Gardner, who is eligible due to her work as an EMT in Rochester, said. However, she was sure to reiterate the safety and value of the vaccine: “Don’t be scared of the post-vaccine symptoms; just take some Tylenol the next day and you’ll be a-okay.”
The vaccine opens up new possibilities for students. “I am going to be [fully] immunized in a couple days, and same with my parents and grandparents,” junior Isabelle Vacchetto, who became eligible through her job working with a disabled person, said. “So I’m going to my grandma’s house to have coffee — still distanced but for the first time since the pandemic, and that’s quite nice.”
All students interviewed for this article said that they have not changed their behavior in terms of their willingness to wear masks, socially distance, or meet up with others within guidelines. But many reported that they are no longer stressed about the possibility of catching the virus.
Senior Amanda Liang, who is vaccinated through volunteer work which includes direct patient care, also had COVID-19 over winter break. “Let me tell you it literally sucked; 0/10 experience,” she said. “There was a moment during my fever dream where I was convinced that I was going to die.”
As new vaccines near approval, it remains unclear whether any will be available to the general public before the end of the semester, but there is hope that the vaccine could allow fall 2021 to be a more normal semester.