Drake students and staff discuss the COVID-19 vaccines safety, possible vaccination requirement, and what the vaccine might mean for the future of Drake University as COVID-19 vaccination rollout continues.
“I think our country’s regulatory agencies, while nowhere near perfect, do a good job for us in testing vaccines before they’re released to the general public,” said Drake professor Lee Jolliffe. “As an older person, I grew up with just a few people my age whose parents didn’t get them the polio vaccinations, and they caught it. I know I’m thankful for the vaccinations against so many once-fatal diseases, too, from measles to smallpox.”
Jolliffe said she got the vaccine because she is over 65 years old and has a weakened immune system.
“I got the Pfizer simply because that’s what my doctor’s practice, UnityPoint, offered to all its over-65 patients this past February. I was thrilled to get any shot at all, at that point, having been cooped up alone at home for 11 months, barely venturing out and double-masking when I had to leave the house,” Jolliffe said.
Madison Sanchez, a Drake first-year, also got the Pfizer vaccine.
“Getting the vaccine is going to eventually allow everyone to get back to their normal pre-COVID lives. As a student, that means having more in-person classes again, being able to have more events and activities, and also getting to experience college without having to worry about getting sick,” Sanchez said.
Sanchez said she got the vaccination because her parents have pre-existing medical conditions. Also, she said, that it’s because she is exposing herself to the possibility of getting the COVID-19 virus by living on campus and then having to fly to and from her home in Georgia. But, she says she understands why some people would not want to get vaccinated.
“I personally think that everyone has the right to choose what they believe is best for them, and in my case, I felt that it was best for me to get the vaccine. I appreciate those who have gotten or are planning on getting it, but I am also not going to be rude to those who are not getting it,” Sanchez said. “I understand the fear and anxiety of not knowing the long-term effects of the vaccine because I am also scared even though I already got it. I think that it is okay if someone chooses not to get vaccinated, as long as they follow the CDC COVID regulations that are in place.”
The possible COVID-19 vaccinations in the United States are Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and Johnson and Johnson/Janssen.
“Even though a lot of people doubt the research and the safety of the vaccines, they should also know that every shot had to go through a minimum amount of testing before it was approved to be released,” Sanchez said.
All of the three vaccines have been FDA approved and underwent trials to test their effectiveness and safety. The FDA analysis of each of the vaccines is available on their website here. The vaccines were able to get approved faster due to U.S. government investments, which covered much of the costs that keep pharmaceutical companies from being able to develop vaccines quickly because of the high expense, according to the FDA.
“I trust the science, I trust the expertise behind this. Of course I’ve done my own due diligence and reading about it and trying to be smart about it, and I’m very confident in everything that I’ve read, its efficacy and safety… It’s exactly what the solution should be,” said Drake President Martin, who got the Moderna vaccine.
The Moderna vaccine requires two doses of the vaccine with 28 days in between. The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine requires two doses of the vaccine with 21 days in between. The Johnson and Johnson/Janssen vaccine requires only one dose. However, the Johnson and Johnson/Janssen vaccine has been recently linked to blood clots and was recalled.
“I think that every vaccine or treatment for health issues has risks that come with them. Anything from medication, vaccines, surgeries, and more has some chance of something going wrong. I read an articlefrom Yale Medicine and it said that over 6.8 million Johnson & Johnson shots were given, but only six people got blood clots,” Sanchez said.
The Johnson and Johnson/Janssen vaccine is back to being available to the public, but with a warning of possible blood clots. The FDA is continuously monitoring the safety and effects of the vaccines for public safety.
“After reading up on the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines in the medical journals and science media, I think they are both very safe. They’re a new type of vaccine, but not something that was created off-the-cuff in a slap-dash way. The mRNA vaccines have been in development for a decade now. I was really pleased that these don’t contain any “killed viruses” and instead retrain our immune systems,” Jolliffe said.
The Johnson and Johnson/Janssen vaccine is a viral vector vaccine. According to the CDC, this means the vaccine delivers a piece of a harmless virus that then produces a harmless piece of the COVID-19 virus. The body’s immune system then recognizes that it doesn’t belong and produces antibodies to kill what it thinks is an infection. Now the body knows how to kill the COVID-19 virus. This vaccine is 66.3% effective at preventing COVID-19 according to the CDC.
The Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines are mRNA vaccines. According to the CDC, this is a new type of vaccine that doesn’t include a virus, but rather contains mRNA. The mRNA teaches the immune system cells to make the protein piece of COVID-19 without contracting the virus. The immune system then makes antibodies that would be used to fight COVID-19 and destroys the instructions from the mRNA vaccine. These vaccines do not interact or alter DNA in any way since they never reach the nucleus of the cell, which is where DNA is. The Moderna vaccine is 94.1% effective at preventing the virus and the Johnson and Johnson/Janssen vaccine is 95% effective, according to the CDC.
“This is the light at the end of the tunnel right, and it just gets brighter by the day, given the numbers that are receiving the vaccine,” President Martin said. “Certainly, we’d love to see even more people showing up to get the vaccine both from our own campus and community and across the state in the country and I’m hopeful that as the message continues to get out about benefits of doing such and addressing some of the concerns that people have expressed that we’ll see more and more of our colleagues, friends, community members, get the vaccine because it is their solution is the answer to these challenges that we’re facing.”
But, some people are not able to get the vaccine due to allergies, being immunocompromised, or other issues.
“Some people cannot get vaccinated and that’s why anyone who can, must,” Jolliffe said.
Drake University recently held a vaccination clinic with the Pfizer vaccine at the Harkin Center on April 16. The University “strongly encourages” everyone who can get vaccinated, to do so. Some Drake students and staff have even helped administer the vaccines.
But, first year Xmiena Rogers-Stamps said that she will not be getting the vaccine because of uncertainties with long term effects and her parents didn’t want her to.
“I decided that I would wait a year and see. However, if it does become a requirement for traveling, then I will get it…I believe that one of the reasons people got the vaccine is because it potentially could be requirements for other things such as universities if they’re private universities or high schools, as well as traveling,” Rogers-Stamps said.
Drake University will not currently be requiring the COVID-19 vaccine of students and staff, and future legislation may prevent them from doing so.
“We are going to do the campaign first. Get voluntary compliance, get the record of that, see where we stand,” President Martin said. “There’s a complicating factor here, in that there is legislation pending in the Iowa legislature that would punish institutions that require people to have the vaccine in order to come on the premises businesses, organizations, institutions, and we fall into the category of those that would be subject to negative consequences.”
President Martin said he was told that the legislation will pass, which would cause businesses and governments in Iowa to lose state grants and contracts if they required COVID-19 vaccinations and proof of COVID-19 vaccinations. But, this hasn’t stopped Drake from pushing it’s students and staff to get vaccinated.
“April 5 I think is when it opened up and we really tried to push that through our community, particularly with our students,” President Martin said. “But that’s all been Drake faculty, Drake staff and Drake students at the clinics and administering the shots. I mean, both sides I got were from pharmacy students, so I’m really proud of them. I think we’ve done just a tremendous service not just to our campus, but to the broader community.”
President Martin said that they have data on how many staff have been vaccinated, but will not release it until they are sure it’s accurate. Also, he said they have proof that over 500 students have been vaccinated. Students can prove they have been vaccinated by sending a picture of their vaccination card to email@example.com. Students who do this are exempt from quarantine protocols if they have been exposed to someone with confirmed COVID-19.
“Well, what we will, as we always have, follow guidance from the CDC, the Department of Public Health of the state of Iowa, as well as Polk County County. So I don’t want to cast any particular outcome. As you know Drake University’s going to make this decision to move this thing, because that guidance as we’ve seen, is evolving,” President Martin said.
It is uncertain how the vaccinations will affect the future COVID-19 safety protocols, but some Drake students and staff have hope for a more normal upcoming year.
“I’m thrilled to be able to see my students again this spring, even in one-on-one meetings outdoors, and I can’t wait to get back into the classroom. In class, I can see who is engaged and who isn’t, I can change pace if I see a lesson isn’t resonating, and I can work to be sure everyone stays interested and learning,” Jolliffe said.
“I am hoping to see Drake more alive and like it used to be pre-COVID,” Sanchez said.