University of Richmond senior Suraj Bala sat in the monitoring room of the Henrico County Health Department among the complimentary water bottles and granola bars. Fifteen minutes had passed since Bala entered the room and no severe side effects seem to appear from his vaccine treatment, he recalled. By the end of his appointment, Bala left the health department knowing he was one of the first people in the UR community to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.
Bala received the first dose of the two-dose Moderna COVID-19 vaccine on Dec. 23, followed by the second dose on Jan. 22, he said. At that point, only healthcare workers were eligible, Bala said.
Bala, who is president of UR Emergency Medical Services, was eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine because of his role as an EMT, he said. UREMS is a student-run organization of first responders who assist in medical emergencies on campus, according to the UR Police Department website.
Vaccine distribution is prioritized through a phase-based system, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Vaccines are currently available to people eligible in Phase 1a, which prioritizes healthcare personnel and long-term care residents, and Phase 1b, which prioritizes people aged 75 and older and frontline essential workers such as teachers and grocery store employees, according to the CDC.
There is not an official date for the start of Phase 1c, which prioritizes other essential workers, including higher education faculty and staff, according to the Virginia Department of Health website.
On Feb. 12, the VDH announced the launch of a new, centralized statewide vaccine pre-registration system, according to the VDH website.
The new system was activated at 8 a.m. on Feb. 16, and Virginians who previously pre-registered in their local health district were automatically imported into the new system, according to the VDH. This new system allows Virginians to pre-register for the vaccine online, verify their pre-registration and gain additional information on when they are eligible to make an appointment to receive the vaccine.
David Hale, executive vice president and chief operating officer, and Jeffrey Legro, executive vice president and provost, discussed COVID-19 vaccine registration in a Feb. 15 email to the UR community. They encourage those who are eligible for vaccination during Phase 1b, such as older people or those with medical conditions, to register, they wrote.
But even people who are not eligible for vaccination during Phase 1b can pre-register on the website.
“We encourage all members of our community to register after the [scheduling] website has been established,” Hale and Legro wrote.
UR has been working with the VDH to support a vaccination clinic on campus, Hale and Legro wrote. At this time, it remains uncertain whether the VDH is going to allocate vaccines to the university, they wrote.
Like Bala, senior Amanda Schmitt received the COVID-19 vaccine under Phase 1a because of her work as a UREMS EMT, she said.
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Schmitt received the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine on Jan. 21, as part of Phase 1a, but her second dose has been postponed due to snow delays, she said.
Junior Jillian Jetmore has also received the COVID-19 vaccine because of her work as a nurse’s aide, she said. She received her second dose of the Pfizer vaccine on Jan. 22, she said. Jetmore works at a nursing home in her hometown of Kansas City, Missouri, and was able to get the vaccine at a CVS Health there over winter break, she said.
Bala, Jetmore and Schmitt all said they had experienced some side effects after receiving the vaccine.
After the first dose, Bala experienced mild swelling and pain on the injection site, Bala said. Jetmore had soreness in her arm for 24 to 48 hours, she said. Schmitt also had tenderness in her arm after the first injection, she said.
After the second dose, Bala and Jetmore noticed mild flu-like symptoms, including body aches, headaches and a short-lived fever, they said.
“The side effects are better than a full-blown case of COVID-19 for sure,” Bala said. “It just means it’s working and you have the immune response.”
Bala and Schmitt both complete the weekly CDC survey “V-safe” to report any symptoms they experience, they said. V-safe provides vaccinated people with personalized health check-ins, reminders and online surveys, according to the CDC website.
All three vaccinated students continue to follow COVID-19 regulations.
“I still take all the precautions and am still really careful,” Bala said. “Although I have the vaccine, my behavior has not really changed.”
Since getting the vaccine, Jetmore’s routine has not significantly changed, she said. Jetmore noted that people who get vaccinated are still at risk of getting COVID-19, albeit, with less symptoms, she said.
“I definitely do feel safer and have some relief knowing that, if I were to get [COVID-19], I probably would not have very many symptoms, if any,” Jetmore said.
Getting vaccinated has also given Schmitt a sense of safety, especially when she is responding to calls for UREMS, she said. Schmitt’s role as a first responder requires her to take emergency calls from UR students, who pose a risk to her because they could be asymptomatic with COVID-19.
“If there is an issue in the [COVID-19] isolation rooms, we’re called,” Schmitt said. “Somebody on the force had to do that last semester. I saw the call on the log, and I was really nervous for them. We have [personal protective equipment], but it still makes me super nervous.”
Clinical trials have determined that the vaccine successfully prevents symptomatic COVID-19, however; they are still researching how well the vaccine prevents recipients from spreading the virus asymptomatically, according to the CDC website. This uncertainty is another reason why
Bala remains careful with social distancing, mask-wearing and still needs to participate in prevalence testing, he wrote.
Bala lives off-campus with his grandmother who is 80 years old. Bala has to be extra cautious not to put her health at risk when he commutes for his in-person classes, he said.
Now that he has the vaccine, he has a slight peace of mind, he said.
Contact contributor Caroline Lydecker at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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