Student health facility workers receive vaccine

By Matt Troher, Assistant Longform Editor

Clara Duarte, junior in LAS, went into work at McKinley Health Center on Jan. 4, expecting a normal start to the first week of the new year. As she was completing her duties as a social media manager and health education department worker, her coworker informed her that she had the opportunity to start her new year in an unprecedented way — getting vaccinated for COVID-19.

Eager to get the vaccine, Duarte emailed the McKinley staff in charge of vaccinations and set up an appointment for Wednesday, two days later. 

When Wednesday rolled around, Duarte went to CRCE, the current campus vaccination hub, checked in for her appointment and got the long-awaited vaccine. Other than waiting for 15 minutes after the shot, a policy mandated nationwide to check for any side effects, the process felt similar to a flu shot.

“I did my flu shot at CRCE, and my Pfizer vaccine was also at CRCE, so it sort of felt like the same thing, the only difference is you have to wait for a couple of minutes after,” Duarte said. “After I got vaccinated, the nurse that vaccinated me asked how I felt, and I told her that some vaccinations can be kind of painful, like my tetanus shot, but this one wasn’t painful at all.”

As part of her job with the McKinley social media team, Durate is working on a social media campaign to combat misconceptions about the vaccine. As with most things these days, the COVID-19 vaccine has been a subject of online misinformation. 

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“I definitely think people need to not be afraid,” Duarte said. “I know it can be a little scary, and I know a lot of people have misconceptions like ‘Hey if they were able to make a vaccine for this so fast, why can’t they make vaccines for other things this fast?’ I know a lot of people are scared that it’s a new technology, and I even had someone tell me ‘Oh you’re going to turn into a zombie if you take the vaccine.’ I can assure you that I have not turned into a zombie.”

Champaign County, along with the rest of Illinois, is currently in phase 1A of their vaccine distribution plan, which includes health care personnel and residents of long-term care facilities. While the majority of people in this group are doctors, nurses and physicians well into their careers, students who work in health care facilities, such as COVID-19 units are eligible for the vaccine at this stage as well. 

Anya Neuberger, junior in LAS, works with the University’s COVID-19 testing team, checking people into testing sites and helping collect test tubes. Neuberger has taken social distancing seriously since the beginning of the pandemic in March, and sees her job in the COVID testing unit as a respite from isolation, finding joy in the minor interactions with those getting tested. 

Neuberger’s job brought along another unexpected joy: eligibility for the COVID-19 vaccine. She received the first dose of her vaccine on Jan. 8 at CRCE and attests the vaccine came with no unexpected side effects.

“I’ve had no reaction to (the vaccine) afterward other than some soreness in my arm, which is really common with vaccines,” Neuberger said. “The biggest thing is to fact check and make sure what you’re reading about the vaccine is correct. I think right now people are trying to scare others to not get it, but there’s no reason to not get it. I know people are scared because it came out so quickly, but I think if everyone plays their role and gets the vaccine, we can start to have a [decrease] in COVID cases.”

Although there remains a lot of time until when the majority of the student body is eligible to get vaccinated — some experts predict April — the advent of the vaccine has brought hope that things will return to normal once again. Neuberger, along with many other students, celebrated the holidays with her family over Zoom, as close to normal one can safely get, and looks forward to being able to celebrate holidays, birthdays and other special occasions in person.

When asked what she plans to first do once the majority of campus is vaccinated, Neuberger responded by detailing a night out with her friends. 

“Having a big together with all my friends will be very fun to celebrate things (returning) back to normal. With everyone not being on campus and only some people being on campus and social distancing, it’s been a really hard semester and difficult and kind of sad not seeing anyone,” Neuberger said.

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