Regina Sung, Contributing Photographer
Although much of Yale’s student body can expect to wait more than a month until the vaccine is available to them, some students have already received the shots.
Yale undergraduates who have received the COVID-19 vaccine through the University’s program, clinical trials or through clinics in their hometowns reflected on what getting the vaccine was like and how they feel now that they are fully vaccinated.
“I have been very lucky to get jabbed so quickly, but I think it’s important to bear in mind that it’s still unclear whether being vaccinated prevents you from being contagious,” Brandon Tang ’22, Chief of Service for Yale Emergency Medical Services, or EMS, told the News. “I hope that students will remain cautious even after they receive a vaccine.”
Tang explained that beyond its usual operations, YEMS has been involved in Yale Health’s COVID-19 response efforts, which include both flu and COVID-19 vaccination clinics. He received his first COVID-19 shot in January and experienced minor but transient side effects: a low-grade fever, chills and soreness in his arm. Although he described a similar experience with the second shot, he mentioned that the symptoms were slightly more intense the second time around –– a feeling that many among those already vaccinated have also reported.
But according to Tang, that was a small price to pay for the protection he now feels when doing his job.
“While being vaccinated by no means makes me invincible, and I have maintained the appropriate usage of PPE and continued to avoid risky behaviors, getting my shots has definitely made me much more confident in my patient care, because I know I am less likely to become infected and spread the virus to others,” Tang said.
Chief Quality Officer for Yale Health Madeline Wilson, told the News that undergraduate students who fall under the Phase 1A criteria –– working as healthcare providers or medical first responders –– are eligible to get their shots. According to Connecticut’s official state website, Phase 1A began on Dec. 14. During Phase 1A, students who are part of the Yale EMS program were offered the COVID-19 vaccine through Yale Health in light of their role as medical first responders on campus.
Undergraduate students who work in clinical research settings where they either handle live SARS-CoV-2 or patient samples that may contain it are also eligible for the vaccine under Phase 1A, Wilson said. While two of these students did confirm their vaccination to the News and said that they received MyChart invitations in mid-February, they declined to comment on their experience.
Dyuthi Mathews Tharakan ’22, an EMT for Yale Health and a member of the Stratford Emergency Medical Services team, interacts with patients directly through Stratford and completed her training to work in vaccine clinics through Yale on Feb. 19.
Mathews Tharakan received the vaccine under Phase 1A criteria and echoed Tang’s feelings about the side effects being worth the protection from the virus. She received the Moderna vaccine last month and said that she did not have any physical reaction to her first dose of the vaccine but had chills, a fever and soreness for a day and a half following her second injection.
“It was just draining and it was hard to move around but it 100 percent is better than getting COVID-19 itself,” Mathews Tharakan said, adding that undergraduate medical workers all had the ability to choose whether or not to accept their vaccine appointment. “I was just grateful that it was over when it was done.”
Mathews Tharakan said that she feels much safer now that she has received the vaccine but also maintains the same social distancing and masking protocols to protect her community. According to the CDC, although the early data shows that getting vaccinated helps prevent people from spreading COVID-19, scientists are still exploring how immunity to the coronavirus might develop in the long run.
Charlotte Polk ’23 is a food service tech at Mercy Hospital in St. Louis, Missouri who received the Pfizer vaccine early this year. She comes into direct contact with COVID patients regularly.
“In terms of myself, I do feel safer being able to go to the grocery store and get gas,” Polk said. “I [also] do feel safer interacting with patients knowing that I’ve had both doses of the vaccine.”
A greater proportion of students are slated to become eligible for COVID-19 vaccinations later this term: Gov. Ned Lamont had announced that COVID-19 vaccine eligibility for those between the ages of 16 and 34 will begin on May 3. But per President Joe Biden’s recent statement regarding accelerating eligibility timelines nationwide, Lamont is hoping to shift the current vaccination timeline forward. Biden hopes that every United States resident will have access to the vaccine by May 1.
However, May 1 and May 3 fall about a week short of the end of classes for Yale undergraduates. And the two-dose Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines require at least 21 days between shots, which has raised questions among students about how feasible it would be for them to get vaccinated before leaving campus for the summer.
Director of Yale Health Paul Genecin previously told the News that in theory, the fact that the Johnson & Johnson vaccine requires only one dose could facilitate student vaccinations by the end of the spring term. But both he and Wilson stressed that whether or not this shot could be used to immunize all Yale students would be contingent on vaccine availability, which is coordinated by the state. Vaccine centers are also not allowed to choose a certain type of vaccine to receive, Wilson said.
Although the single-dose Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine was granted Emergency Use Authorization by the FDA on Feb. 27, and the Yale New Haven Health system has since been given a limited supply, Wilson said that Yale Health’s vaccine program has not received any doses as of March 11.
“We do hope to be able to offer [this] vaccine to students, but this is by no means certain and is entirely dependent on the vaccine supply at the time and what [is] made available to us by the state,” Wilson wrote to the News.
Anyone can check their eligibility for the COVID-19 vaccine at the Connecticut COVID-19 vaccine portal. Currently, healthcare personnel, medical first responders, long-term care facility residents, residents and staff of congregate settings, educators and individuals 55 and older are eligible to receive vaccinations under Connecticut’s phased rollout plan.
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Correction, March 16: Tang is now Chief of Services for Yale Emergency Medical Services, not lieutenant of operations. The story has been updated.