The Cavalier Daily
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Vaccinated students feel safer and more comfortable, anticipate seeing family members

All individuals aged 16 or older living in the BRHD are now eligible to receive shots, making most University students eligible

As more and more students receive vaccines through U.Va. Health, the Blue Ridge Health District and other sources, vaccinated students report that they are looking forward to seeing elderly relatives and family members along with having a reduced fear of contracting or spreading the virus.

Students have filed into U.Va. Health’s COVID-19 Community Vaccination Center located in the Seminole Square Shopping Center over the past two weeks to receive their first doses of the vaccine. The University began sending invitations to schedule appointments on April 12 after the Blue Ridge Health District entered phase 2 of the vaccine rollout — qualifying anyone 16 or older to receive the vaccine — the same day.

Under this new expansion, roughly 45,000 people in the BRHD became eligible for the vaccine, and thousands of students have already received their first doses at the clinic. 

“We do not have exact numbers, but our vaccination team estimates about 4,100 University students and about 1,000 University faculty have signed up to receive vaccinations at our Seminole Square location,” Eric Swensen, public relations officer for U.Va Health, said in an email to The Cavalier Daily on April 19. 

Per a summary from the Virginia Department of Health, over 33,000 doses have been administered in the Charlottesville area as of Saturday, with over 22,000 residents having received at least their first dose. 

In a news release from the BRHD, Health Director Denise Bonds said that the Seminole Square location “will greatly increase the community’s ability to scale up vaccine distribution as additional vaccine is made available.” The clinic is the second of two clinics coordinated by U.Va Health and the BRHD. The first opened Jan. 6 on Hydraulic Road.

Third-year College student Alex Kellum, who registered for his first dose earlier last week and drove to the clinic on April 17 with a friend, was pleased with how easy the process was.

“We just signed up for a time slot and walked right through the line,” Kellum said.

The 25,000-square-foot facility was opened Jan. 29 by the BRHD in partnership with U.Va. Health and is located in the Seminole Square Shopping Center on Hillsdale Drive. The venue was specifically chosen with accessibility for both University students and the greater Charlottesville community in mind, being located on a Charlottesville Area Transit bus line. JAUNT, Inc and CAT are offering rides at no cost to those needing transportation to and from the clinic, according to the BRHD release.

Many students without transportation, including first years, took one of several University Transit Service shuttles, which ran from Scott Stadium to the vaccination center at 10-minute interviews the weekend of April 16 from 9:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.

First-year College student Alex Pawlica shuttled to the clinic on April 17. He was originally scheduled to receive the vaccine at his hometown hospital, but canceled his appointment when he heard that U.Va. Health was opening a vaccination site close to Grounds. 

“It was a matter of traveling back being kind of an obstacle,” Pawlica said. “I was making those plans to return home and maybe get my first dose there but once I saw that U.Va. was getting ready to expand access, I was like, ‘I can wait a few days’ … this was definitely very easy to get to and didn’t interrupt my classes.”

First-year College student Izzy Motta, who travelled with Pawlica to the clinic on April 17, echoed his sentiments. 

“It was very smooth,” Motta said. “Everything was very structured … when they sat you down they made sure you understood every facet of the process.”

Students are not given a choice about which vaccine they receive, though U.Va. Health followed the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommendation to pause distribution of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine on April 13 over concerns about possible links to a rare blood clot disease in six vaccinated women. The BRHD announced in a tweet on April 13 that the Johnson and Johnson vaccine would no longer be administered in the district and that all appointments for the vaccine would be canceled or rescheduled with either Pfizer or Moderna vaccines.

Second-year College student Jacqueline Bryant took a UTS shuttle to the clinic April 17 to receive her first of the Pfizer vaccine. She said she was happy the BRHD was no longer administering the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which only requires one-dose. Distribution of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine was temporarily suspended while the Food and Drug Administration investigated a rare blood clot disease that infected six American women after receiving the vaccine. Distribution of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine has started again and despite mistrust of the vaccine, doctors stress that it is safe and effective.  

“I definitely did not want the Johnson & Johnson [vaccine],” Bryant said. “I was a little worried about that one even before this stuff came out.”

For some students, the clinic represents the first opportunity for vaccination since word spread among the University community that a center in Danville, Va. was administering doses on a walk-in basis in March. Though the center quickly ceased walk-in appointments following an influx of students to the area, many reported that workers at the site were claiming to have wasted doses of the vaccine due to unexpectedly low registration numbers among Danville residents.

Kellum said he knew many students who travelled to the Danville location, mainly through social media. 

One student, third-year College student Tiffany Nguyen, received her first shot of the Moderna vaccine in Danville in March before Groves discouraged students from doing so. Nguyen wasn’t in a priority group for vaccination, but said she heard that the clinic had excess doses and its nurses were asking for more people to come.

Nguyen is a resident advisor and said her position made her feel more inclined to become vaccinated. 

“I think that [being an RA] gave me more of a reason to want to go just because I live with so many people and interact with a bunch of residents on a daily basis,” Nguyen said. “I think that if I was living at home I probably wouldn’t have as much incentive to go.”

First-year College student Christian Marinaro, who walked from his dorm to Scott Stadium to catch a shuttle to the clinic, said he had heard of fellow first-year students who found a ride to the Danville location despite not owning cars themselves. 

Bryant said she preferred to get vaccinated at the Seminole Square location over another venue. 

“I think it was more accessible through U.Va.,” Bryant said. 

Some students were able to receive vaccinations at other locations before U.Va. Health started distributing to students, however.

After pre-registering to receive vaccine information through the Center for Disease Control, fourth-year Education student Julia Lukacs said she received an email from the CDC March 18 confirming that her priority group was eligible for vaccinations starting the following day. 

“My family group chat lit up and we were all so excited we were crying,” Lukacs said. 

Due to a preexisting health condition, Lukacs was in priority group 1b and got her first dose of the Pfizer vaccine March 19 and second dose April 6. Before vaccination, Lukacs said she had lots of anxiety about possibly contracting the virus at grocery stores or while walking past people on the Corner.

Despite being fully vaccinated now, Lukacs said she’ll continue to take all of the same precautions she took before she got vaccinated.

“I feel pretty confident with the science and the effectiveness of [the vaccine],” Luckacs said. “I won't leave every situation, you know, assuming the worst.”

First-year College student Matthew Docalovich received his first dose of the Pfizer vaccine March 27 in Hampton, Va. as a part of priority group 1b. He received his second shot April 17.

After receiving his first dose, Docalovich said he feels more comfortable seeing friends and is looking forward to visiting family. Docalovich also said he’s excited to no longer have to attend the University’s required weekly saliva screening prevalence testing starting two weeks after his second dose. 

“I’m most excited to go see my family in New York after I’m fully vaccinated because most of [my relatives] are,” Docalovich said.

In addition to individuals with preexisting health conditions, frontline essential workers — including childcare workers, police officers, firefighters, mail carriers, manufacturing and food and agricultural workers — are members of group 1b. 

Nguyen and Docalovich noted that they believe it’s important for students to get vaccinated in order to protect themselves and the community.

“Minimizing the effect of COVID is a huge benefit,” Nguyen said. “Just because you’re young and healthy and may not need it, you may still be a carrier for somebody who is immunocompromised or somebody who is in contact with an elderly person who is at high risk.”

Lukacs said she respects students’ personal choices if they feel hesitant about the vaccine.

“I definitely respect [students’] body autonomy,” Lukacs said. “I would just hope that they have been making a very informed decision if they have any hesitations or are reluctant to get it.”

Fourteen days after receiving a second dose, students will no longer be required to report for weekly prevalence testing to the University. Students who have already been vaccinated are encouraged to send records to Healthy Hoos.


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