Some local universities share student vaccine enthusiasm; some staff members still hesitant

This weekend, the US eclipsed 50% of adults who have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, as providers continue to try and increase rates.

Some of that focus is now on young adults and college students.

In North Carolina, 18 to 24-year-olds make up 9.4% of the population but just 5.9% of vaccinations. That's not surprising, as most of that age group recently became eligible.

"This has been truly the most difficult, the most challenging year of my life. And anything I can do to ease the burden on myself, my family members, and put less people at risk, I wanted to take my shot and hopefully have a dose of hope with this vaccine," said UNC Senior President Chris Suggs.

Local universities and colleges have held large-scale events to encourage vaccinations, with some, including UNC and NC State, hosting clinics.

"Something that I'm really proud about of students about UNC is that we've been very cognizant of what's been going on around the country. We've been paying attention to the research and development of the vaccine. The fact that a lot of the research was done at UNC Chapel Hill and by researchers affiliated with the university, I think that gives some hope and confidence," said Suggs.

Suggs believes vaccination can help enable a return to further normalcy for students including his younger sister, who is a freshman.

"I'm excited that for her and her peers, there's so many opportunities now for them to get vaccinated and feel a little bit more safe when they go to campus in the fall. Because we want to see them experience those fun Saturday mornings and afternoons in Kenan Stadium, and rushing Franklin Street when we beat Duke," said Suggs.

He pointed to initial success with more stable metrics and vaccines beginning, noting the presence of some in-person events.

"I feel a little bit more comfortable with the fact that we'll be able to have a safe, in-person graduation in a few weeks. This week we're actually celebrating Senior Week on-campus, so we have a combination of both virtual and in-person that are socially-distanced and safe. I'm just so excited knowing that myself and so many of my classmates are getting vaccinated, and we can feel comfortable attending an in-person commencement ceremony. We can feel comfortable being able to see each other for the first time in close to a year now," said Suggs.

Over at NC State, where they were forced to close residential halls first semester due to COVID outbreaks, second semester has gone far more smoothly.

"It's a whole different day. We do around 11,000 tests a week which is pretty phenomenal. And of those 11,000 tests, we have a positive rate which is less than 1%," said Dr. Julie Casani, Medical director of Student Health Services at NC State.

An on-campus vaccination clinic has provided vaccines to more than 5,000 people thus far, 83% of whom are students. On top of that, others have received their vaccine off-campus, with the university working to learn how many students have done so.

While Dr. Casani is happy with the start of the clinic, she acknowledged the CDC and FDA recommendation to pause use of the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine presents challenges.

"That one shot, you're done was very appealing to students because today we're vaccinating people with Pfizer. In three weeks, that's May 7. And so in three weeks, that's Finals. They're looking to get off-campus. We're going to lose them. We're really worried about it," said Dr. Casani.

The Carolina Student Vaccination Clinic, located UNC's Student Union, addresses this issue on its website, urging students to make sure they have another provider lined up to administer a second dose if they will no longer be on-campus.

Despite the obstacle, Casani said students have been enthusiastic in signing up.

"The reluctance that we're seeing is with the staff. And we work really hard. I can tell you that every facilities worker in this building knows me because I have gone and personally talked to them about their concerns, about their reluctance, making sure that if they're making decisions, they're making informed decisions," said Dr. Casani.

NC State is expanding its vaccine access to alums and immediate family members of students, staff, and faculty.
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