COVID-19 vaccine to roll out for some students

Cars pull up to VCU Massey Cancer Center at 401 College St. Photo by Enza Marcy

Anya Sczerzenie, Staff Writer

Clinical students who work directly with patients will be first in line among VCU students to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, according to a university release. 

The eligible group of more than 2,000 includes select students from the schools of medicine, dentistry, nursing and social work; the College of Health Professions; and a few from the departments of kinesiology, psychology and health sciences. 

VCU public information officer Alexandra Nowak said 2,100 students are eligible for the vaccine. Other students and faculty will be vaccinated when they are eligible under the Virginia Department of Health’s guidelines. The university administers the vaccines at VCU Medical Center.

The two vaccines that are being used in the United States, the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, are both given in two doses to provide the most protection, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Doses are given 21 days apart for the Pfizer vaccine, and 28 days apart for the Moderna vaccine, according to the CDC. If someone receives the second dose late, it does not change the level of protection it provides, but getting it too early is not recommended. 

Another vaccine, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, is single-dose but requires approval from the Food and Drug Administration.

“I’m definitely still getting it, and I’m so blessed I’m able to make that choice,” said senior nursing student Rebecca Blackford.

Virginia is currently in phases 1a and 1b of its vaccination plan, according to the Virginia Department of Health’s website. These phases include healthcare and other frontline essential workers, those 65 and older, people with underlying medical conditions and those in institutions such as correctional facilities and nursing homes. 

The vaccination phase varies by county in Virginia. Richmond was recently upgraded to Phase 1b according to VDH’s website. A few localities in Virginia are still in Phase 1a, including the Virginia Beach area.

Phase 1c, which has not started yet, will include essential workers such as faculty and staff at higher education institutions.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, addressed questions about the virus and the vaccine at a virtual event hosted by VCU on Jan. 8. 

Fauci said mass vaccinations of non-vulnerable groups will ideally begin in April, and that vaccination should be completed by the end of the summer in 2021.

“In April, we start open season. Anyone can get vaccinated,” Fauci said. “If we vaccinate efficiently in April, May, June, July — and that’s a big if — then we could start approaching a reasonable degree of normality towards the mid-fall of 2021.”

Fauci also addressed a question about the importance of the second vaccine dose.

“The second dose is absolutely critical,” Fauci said. “One dose of the Moderna or Pfizer has not been proven to be effective to the degree we want, and we don’t know how long that protection lasts. Whatever you’re hearing, one dose of the Moderna or Pfizer is not optimal.”

Senior nursing student Rebecca Blackford is still recovering from COVID-19 but plans to get the vaccine once she is symptom-free. As a student in clinical rotation, she is already eligible to take the vaccine. 

“I’m definitely still getting it, and I’m so blessed I’m able to make that choice,” Blackford said.

Blackford said she has noticed a lot of anticipation building around the vaccine. 

“I think most students will take it,” Blackford said. “For people who don’t want it, I would ask them — obviously without judgement — why they don’t want it, and start a conversation with them to talk through their fears and concerns.”

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