As university students enter their third semester of college dominated by remote learning, the “light at the end of the tunnel” coronavirus vaccine may provide some promise of a return to normalcy in the near future.
Despite this glimpse of hope, uncertainty still lingers around the “when,” what,” “where,” and “who” of the vaccine.
Although there are few concrete answers to all of the possible questions about COVID-19 vaccination, The Review has compiled “The College Student’s (Provisional) Guide to COVID-19 Vaccination” to help answer all the questions that can be in this current moment.
Right now, the two vaccines being used widely in the United States are the Moderna vaccine and Pfizer BioNTech vaccine, both messenger RNA vaccines requiring two doses. They are about 95% effective at preventing symptomatic COVID-19 cases and nearly 100% effective at preventing COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths, according to Richard Pescatore, chief physician with the Delaware Division of Public Health (DPH).
Johnson & Johnson (J&J) has recently submitted an application for emergency use authorization of its single-dose vaccine. Once it receives approval, the J&J vaccine will likely begin vaccinating Delawareans.
According to Tim Dowling, the director of Student Health Services (SHS), although mRNA vaccines are novel, students have nothing to fear because mRNA treatments have been used to fight cancer.
“We know the technology is safe and effective,” Dowling said. “[There are] very [few] side effects, at least severe side effects.”
However, it is still uncertain whether or not the vaccine itself prevents against COVID-19 transmission, according to Dowling and Pescatore.
For this reason, Dowling affirmed that disciplinary consequences for gatherings are still in place at the university for vaccinated and unvaccinated students.
The state of Delaware is at the beginning stages of vaccination and the development of herd immunity, with over 10% of its population having received the first dose of the vaccine and almost 3% having received both doses.
Delaware is at Phase 1b of vaccine allocation, which includes front-line workers and those aged 65 and over, having surpassed Phase 1a, which includes health care personnel, residents and staff of long-term care facilities, and emergency medical services agencies.
According to Dowling, nursing students, those working at the university’s testing centers and SHS staff have at least received their first vaccine dose. In-person teachers and other campus workers are in Phase 1b of Delaware’s vaccine allocation plan and should receive their vaccines as Delaware works its way through the phase.
Pescatore said that college students will generally fall into Phase 2 and the subsequent phases of vaccine allocation.
“Toward the end of last year, we developed plenty of data that individuals between the ages of 18 and 35 … are one of the main drivers of virus spread,” Pescatore said. “That’s to be expected because of the sociality and the geographic manipulation, that’s fine, but what it does underscore is the importance of every college student getting vaccinated as quickly as possible. When the vaccine does become available to college students, it will become critical that we reach that one-hundred percent mark, because it’s going to save lives.”
Vaccine distribution is currency taking place in plenty of places and ways, including pharmacies like Walgreens and Rite Aid, through medical providers and hospitals, and at vaccination events like those hosted by DPH at Department of Motor Vehicles locations.
As for college students who are not yet eligible but will be in Phase 2 or 3, colleges and universities will provide a possible new avenue for vaccine distribution.
“We are some time away from operationalization of category two, and for that, that leaves some planning time, left in the hands of universities and colleges,” Pescatore said. “[That] also leaves a lot of uncertainty, because we’re not sure what the vaccination landscape is really going to look like when we find our way to phase two. … So, I think because of all of that uncertainty we haven’t seen a lot of operationalization on the part of colleges and universities, but I suspect as we get close, that that will mobilize.”
Pescatore’s suspicions hold true, as the university is in the midst of plans with the state to vaccinate students and the community.
“We’ve been working diligently with the state to try to make sure we are in line for getting as much [vaccine] as possible and have even talked to the state about [setting] up what we call ‘Mass Distribution Sites,’” Dowling said. “Our ideal … when it becomes time for students to get their vaccine, is that we would work with the state and [set] up a mass vaccination center … in a large area like the Bob Carpenter Center or the football field.”
If college students will become a priority to vaccinate, when will it actually become available to them?
Much is left to be desired regarding the exact timeline of vaccination.
However, what is known about their future is that it will likely be a long time until the state and the country reach the threshold of herd immunity that will allow for a complete return to normal.
“It will probably be well into the Fall  semester before we’re starting to get that community immunity level of 80% of people getting vaccinated,” Dowling said.
Dowling added that things could change with the new administration trying to speed up vaccination production and the new one-dose J&J vaccine.
In the meantime, the vaccinated and unvaccinated should continue to practice social distancing, wearing masks and socializing outdoors, Pescatore recommended.
“We in public health appreciate that there’s a balance in all things and wellness is important in all aspects,” he said. “It would be the wrong message to say … ‘don’t interact with others in any way shape or form,’ I think it’s a better message to do so smartly.”
Dowling said the main cause of the spread of the virus in the Fall 2020 semester was unmasked, indoor gatherings, whether small or large. He encouraged students to follow the new mandatory testing rules and to form a “bubble” with those within the same household or if that’s not possible, with one or two other households.
“You really have to protect that and not let other people into that bubble,” Dowling said. “As soon as you let other people in without a mask on, you now have to start all over again, and potentially, someone could have contaminated that bubble.”
Lastly, what does it feel like?
Mikayla Williams, a student at the Margaret H. Rollins School of Nursing in Lewes, who received her first dose in late January, said, “it actually really hurt.”
She said it stung afterwards for three days and it left her with a sore arm and a feeling of tiredness.
While both Pfizer and Moderna have acknowledged potential side effects, physicians say the vaccines are safe. Medical experts state that side effects for vaccines are common and are an indication the shots are working as intended.
Beyond the physical feeling of the vaccine, Pescatore talked about receiving his second dose and reflected on his days working in the Emergency Room and Intensive Care Unit at the beginning of the pandemic.
“When I got the vaccine, it was a big moment and a little bit of a middle finger to the virus,” Pescatore said.
Students and community members, according to Dowling and medical professionals across the country, should follow the science and consider contributing to herd immunity.
“When and if you get a chance to get the vaccine, seriously consider it,” Dowling said.