Though frustration and excitement continue to mount across California over the state’s vaccine rollout, nursing students, clinical faculty, and staff at USF are among the essential healthcare workers prioritized to “skip the line” and get vaccinated first.
“We are facilitating the vaccination process for all of our clinical students, faculty, and skills/sim lab faculty and staff,” Associate Dean of Nursing Susan Kay Prion said in a statement. The School of Nursing and Health Professions (SONHP) is encouraging clinical students and faculty to sign up for vaccinations through their clinical sites; UCSF’s community vaccination program for essential workers in San Francisco, as well as through nearby St. Mary’s Hospital, which has offered to vaccinate “any nursing student and clinical faculty member who does not have access to the vaccine through their current clinical sites,” Prion said.
Among the USF students to get the Moderna-produced COVID-19 vaccine is senior Emily Estrada, who got her first dose Jan. 14 as a result of her work at St. Mary’s Hospital.
“The day after [I got the vaccine] I remember I woke up really early because I had chills and I just felt really fatigued the whole day,” Estrada said. Before receiving the vaccine, Estrada was already familiar with its common side effects, which she had heard about from friends and other nursing students who received the shot before her.
“I think I had slight hesitations just because it’s a new vaccine, but both my mom and my brother are nurses as well, so they got it before me and they were just very reassuring that I should be fine,” Estrada said. After getting vaccinated herself, she was able to encourage other family members and friends that it was safe. “My cousin, who’s also in nursing, just got a job as a caretaker and she was pretty nervous to get it as well, but I told her that the side effects only really lasted a day and how some [people] don’t even have any side effects. I think after that she was more comfortable receiving it,” she added.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Moderna vaccine, after two doses, has a 94.1% efficacy rate and, “appeared to have high effectiveness…among people of diverse…categories and among persons with underlying medical conditions.” The CDC lists fever, chills, and headaches among the vaccine’s most common side effects and they warn that symptoms “usually start within a day or two of getting the vaccine,” though they should only last a few days.
Estrada’s experience was very similar to another senior nursing student, Angelica Hom, who is practicing her clinical work in the Intensive Care Unit at St. Mary’s. Hom had just completed her two-dose Moderna vaccine when interviewed. “Of course I totally understand that some are cautious, but the vaccine won’t kill you…it may put you out of commission for a couple of days, but ultimately, I feel so much better knowing I’m protected now,” she said.
Although the vaccine undoubtedly protects nursing students in the long run, others had a more stressful vaccination process, like sophomores Adrian Aguinaldo and Lauren Rosa, who are in the same clinical nursing group in the medical-surgery unit of St. Mary’s Hospital. Aguinaldo and Rosa both took their first vaccine dose Jan. 14. When Aguinaldo received the vaccine he felt a pain in his arm. “It’s a part of the side effects, but I didn’t realize that it was that bad, I started to get hot and I had a fever of 102 degrees,” he said. “I was shivering and woke up the next day with body aches, so I didn’t get out of bed until the afternoon, but I felt better through the nighttime.”
Rosa experienced identical side effects and felt symptoms as she drove back home to Los Angeles after receiving her dose. “Once I went to sleep it got really bad. I thought it had just been me because I actually had COVID two, three weeks before,” she said. “The next morning I got a text from my roommate Adrian [Aguinaldo], and he asked if I had a fever too. The next day, in our group chat, a few of our friends also got [symptoms] and we realized everybody had been experiencing the same symptoms.”
Aguinaldo, Rosa, and their friends, all received their doses from a specific Moderna vaccine lot, whose distribution was paused three days later after California health officials became aware of possible allergic reactions to the vaccine from individuals in Southern California.
However, on Jan. 20, after a joint investigation by the CDC, U.S Food and Drug Administration, Moderna, California Department of Public Health, and other medical experts, the Moderna lot that caused side effects for Aguinaldo, Rosa, and their peers was determined to be safe. The investigation “found no scientific basis to continue the pause,” California State Epidemiologist Dr. Erica Pan said in a statement. The state has since resumed using the same batch of vaccines.
“It’s not anybody’s fault but it was just shocking more than anything,” Rosa said about the pause.
Though both were surprised by the news, neither Aguinaldo nor Rosa had to restart their vaccination process. “It was weird looking back at it. Those two days were pretty scary but I’ve been fine since,” Aguinaldo said. “Just to even get a vaccine as a nursing student, I feel like that’s something to be super grateful for.”
Sophomore Sunshine Joyce Batasin received her first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine last week, though she received the version produced by Pfizer-BioNTech, not Moderna.
While Batasin was able to receive the vaccine at her clinical site, St. Mary’s Hospital, other nursing students were not so lucky. “Friends that weren’t assigned [to St. Mary’s] specifically, or who haven’t had a clinical site assigned yet, reached out to me and asked, ‘Where are you guys getting the vaccine?’ So you could already see the inequity there,” Batasin said.
The nursing program presently does not require every nursing student to get vaccinated given the limited supply of doses and the program’s commitment to adhering to California’s vaccine prioritization guidelines. “We are in close communication with our clinical partners and the San Francisco Department of Public Health, but the supply remains uncertain and unpredictable,” Prion said. “As we get updates about available vaccines, we notify students and clinical faculty immediately and help with arrangements for scheduling the vaccination process.”
Prion also added, “SONHP is not controlling availability or eligibility for any nursing student [to receive the vaccine]: however, we do not have access to any vaccine. Rather, we are working very closely and in daily contact with our many clinical partners to assure that students and clinical faculty have access to vaccination through our partner’s vaccine supply.”
Christine Chu, president of the Nursing Students Association at USF said there is no ongoing official effort from her organization to advocate for vaccination access. “The School of Nursing is doing an independent effort to get all nursing students vaccinated. If it comes up as an opportunity for us to do a partnership with them, we’d love to participate and help, but as of right now, the school is still trying to figure that out,” Chu said.
Chu, a senior, received her first shot of the Pfizer vaccine and will get her second dose in the next couple of weeks. She believes getting nursing students vaccinated should be a high priority. “The vaccine, ultimately, is to protect yourself and protect others. Even though there are limited doses, nursing students are still essential workers. Whenever it’s available, nursing students should be able to receive it.”
Miguel Arcayena is a junior politics major, Deputy News Editor, and a General Assignment Reporter at the Foghorn. He covers COVID-19-related campus issues. He can be reached at email@example.com.