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BEZNER: Students should have had earlier access to vaccines

Even with the news that Charlottesville will move to phase 2 on April 12, Virginia lagged behind on getting vaccines to students

<p>The site opened with a goal of administering 3,000 doses a day, even though the center averaged <a href="https://wset.com/amp/news/local/virginia-department-of-health-health-officials-work-to-increase-efforts-to-get-southside-region-vaccinated-covid-19-coronavirus-mass-vaccination-site?__twitter_impression=true"><u>a mere 1,070</u></a> shots just a couple weeks ago</p>

The site opened with a goal of administering 3,000 doses a day, even though the center averaged a mere 1,070 shots just a couple weeks ago

The time has come for vaccines to be open to all. Virginia has had ample time to vaccinate those who truly need it. Continuing to deny the vaccine based on age is unnecessary as many states have begun to open availability to the general public. At a minimum, denying access to facilities with significant over supply is thoughtless. Further, the University must stop treating students as children and foreigners.

The vaccine has now been available in Virginia for over 3 months, with supply continuing to rise as new providers have been approved. The state followed a roll out plan that prioritized health care workers, the elderly and those at severe risk — however, the roll out was slow. While a number of other states have opened the vaccine to the general public, Virginia, by and large, only recently moved beyond 1a or 1b, with the state indicating this would not change until mid-April. Even with the news that Charlottesville moves to phase 2 on April 12 — with the University encouraging students to schedule appointments for April 17 and 18 — Virginia lagged behind on getting vaccines to students.

The strange roll out is further questioned when the state opened the first Community Vaccination Center to service Danville, a city in rural Southside Virginia, and the surrounding community. The site opened with a goal of administering 3,000 doses a day, even though the center averaged a mere 1,070 shots just a couple weeks ago, resulting in wasted vaccines. Simply put, the problem was demand. Virginia has sent its greatest resource of vaccines to a town of around 41,000, compared to 450,000 in Virginia Beach, 226,000 in Richmond and 99,000 in Roanoke — not to mention the entire D.C. area. 

Making up for this lackluster demand, University students travelled the two hours for the opportunity to receive one of the “extra” vaccines. At first, students were welcomed by staff and quickly were given the first dose. But the state and University called a halt to these trips. Yet, Lauren Opett, spokesperson for the Virginia Department of Emergency Management, suggested that the center may be scaled back or could be closed entirely.

Equity in releasing the vaccines is important, but this goal is lost if the vaccines are not used at all. Eager members of the community have now sat patiently for months waiting to receive the vaccine. If other members of the community do not want to seek out the vaccine, this should not bar the continued spread of immunity.

The push to vaccinate all of the elderly before expanding to others was dubious from the start but certainly is no longer justifiable. The ultimate goal of the vaccination plan is herd immunity. In that case, the identity of the vaccinated is not necessarily significant. At most, vaccinating the young, who are more active and likely to spread the virus, will more efficiently bring an end to surging cases.

This past year has been hard on all of us and has placed a significant strain on the University’s rich culture. We as students — including those of us in graduate programs — have not been perfect. But we have tried and continue to overcome the virus. The University has not done enough to support students, and Dean Groves’ email last month continued to show this. We have now been reprimanded for worrying about our health and helping bring an end to the pandemic — students have been treated like outsiders from the start of the pandemic. 

We were consistently told that it is our duty to protect the community. We must be aware of the community before ourselves. To be sure, the community is important, and we must respect that. But, the University failed to see that we, as students, are a significant part of this community. We are not foreign invaders — we live here, many of us year-round. So, when the University tells us to “go home,” “respect the community” or to let everyone else go before us, they forget that for many of us this is our home and community, and we have a spot in line just as much as anyone else.

Anyone who desperately needs and wants the vaccine has received it. The time for Virginia to open up vaccines for all of us is overdue.

Hunter Bezner is a third-year student at the School of Law.  He can be reached at opinion@cavalierdaily.com.

The opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Cavalier Daily. Columns represent the views of the authors alone.

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