As COVID-19 vaccines become available to healthcare workers in North Carolina, East Carolina University Health Sciences students have been given the option to get vaccinated, as they were included as healthcare workers in Phase 1A of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC’s) vaccine plan.
ECU Health Sciences students include those in the Brody School of Medicine (BSOM), the College of Nursing (CON), the School of Dental Medicine and the College of Allied Health Sciences, according to Associate Dean for Academic Affairs for the College of Nursing Annette Peery.
Peery said students in the CON are not required to be vaccinated because the vaccine is still new and is not currently required by healthcare agencies.
“We have 1,400 students between our undergraduate and graduate students this semester, which is a record enrollment for the College of Nursing,” Peery said. “Because we are not requiring it (the vaccine), it is very hard for me to even take a guess at what percentage (got vaccinated), but I would like to think that at least half or the majority of our students have had it.”
Peery said many students in the CON received the vaccine from their employers, and some got the vaccine through ECU Physicians when it was available.
There are a number of students, Peery said, who have not gotten an appointment yet or who had their appointment postponed due to a vaccine shortage. She said those students were encouraged to go on ECU’s COVID-19 website or look for other options such as the Pitt County Health Department or the health department in their hometown.
“We do know that ECU will be receiving some vaccines at some point because they have been approved as a recipient of the vaccine, and previously all the ones they had were from Vidant,” Peery said. “When that happens, we are hopeful that we’ll have more vaccines that we’ll be able to give out to our students who are in clinicals and doing direct patient care.”
Peery said it is important for anyone to get vaccinated who has the opportunity to as it will help everyone return to normal. Even after she received the vaccine, she said everyone should continue to follow the 3W’s: wash hands, wear a mask and wait six feet apart.
If people continue to follow these rules and get the vaccine when it becomes available to them, Peery said the hope is that COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths decrease.
“As a nurse, I feel like I should also be a role model and set the example for people,” Peery said. “I think it speaks volumes when healthcare providers say ‘I feel great going to get this vaccine, and I trust this process.’”
Director of ECU Student Health Services (SHS) LaNika Wright said the main role of SHS in the vaccine process has been to provide information and guide schools within the Health Sciences area to identify students who see patients face-to-face and need their vaccine.
Wright said people with SHS helped staff a vaccine clinic held in Brody Commons with vaccine doses from Vidant. She said the hope is that ECU can set up their own clinic to vaccinate students, faculty and staff once the university gets its own supply of vaccines.
“There have been some delays and shortages of vaccines, just because the supply of the vaccines and everyone’s schedules have to line up,” Wright said. “When we had more vaccines coming in, not everyone’s schedules made it possible for them to come in.”
It is important for healthcare workers to get vaccinated, Wright said, because it models for the community what they think should happen.
Wright said it is important for healthcare workers not to miss work due to being ill so that they can continue to be available to treat patients.
“We really encourage people to think hard about getting the vaccine and the benefits of that and what that means for them personally and what that means for their community,” Wright said.
Sophomore intended nursing major Kayla Roberts said in an email statement that she received her second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine at the end of January.
Roberts said as a CNA at Vidant Medical Center she was eligible to be vaccinated. She said the sign up process was done through a website, and then she was given the go ahead to get her vaccine at Vidant, which offered the vaccine free to the healthcare workers.
“I am in a unit of the hospital where I go all around on different units and the COVID(-19) floors are my least favorite,” Roberts said. “You have to wear the N-95, of which I am allergic to, at all times, full PPE, and most of the patients are at the end of their life depending on if they are in the ICU or just on the regular unit floor. I got the vaccine because I want to see COVID gone, people are without their families and they are scared.”
Roberts said some nurses were hesitant at first to be vaccinated, but in the end most people opted for the vaccine. She said after both doses of the vaccine, she only had a sore arm, but some people may have a fever, aches, chills or nausea.
As a sophomore in college, Roberts said she and other nursing students may be a positive influence on the older generations who are more hesitant to get the vaccine. She said their actions will also set an example to other ECU students.
“I think it is important for healthcare workers to get the vaccine because they are putting themselves at risk as soon as they enter the hospital,” Roberts said. “It not only benefits them but it benefits all the patients they work with because it slows the rate of infection.”