Amid the coronavirus pandemic, Penn State has experienced its fair share of outbreaks at its University Park campus. However, as vaccines have emerged over the past months, students have mixed feelings about getting vaccinated.
Nejmi Kara initially drove 45 minutes to Altoona, Pennsylvania, to get the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and has already received his second dose.
“While I did have some side effects, I think it’s really important to get it when the opportunity presents itself,” Kara (senior-biology) said. “Vaccines have become so political when they shouldn’t be. They protect us, and in order to move on with our lives, they’re necessary.”
Since Gov. Tom Wolf opened vaccination registration to all adults in Pennsylvania on April 13, Penn State students have been eligible, and on April 9, the vaccination center at the Bryce Jordan Center began operations.
Additionally, Penn State announced it would host a vaccination clinic at Pegula Ice Arena in partnership with Walmart from April 22-24.
Kara said he registered for his vaccine prior to when registration opened at the BJC.
“I do know a lot of people who have taken advantage of that proximity to get their vaccines,” Kara said. “Honestly, it’s frustrating how long this has gone on for, so I’m just grateful that there’s some type of hope in the air finally and that there is easy access.”
Kara said he believes the university should mandate vaccines for the fall semester but noted how complex of an issue it really is.
“I do not know how plausible that would be and if it could even be called a solution,” Kara said. “Especially with the recent recall of vaccines, I’m not so sure that decision would go over well with students who might not feel comfortable with a vaccine.”
The Johnson & Johnson vaccine distribution was paused throughout the commonwealth on April 13 after six cases of rare blood clots were discovered in the United States. None of the cases were detected in Pennsylvania.
The pause was lifted after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended vaccinations dosages resume immediately on Friday.
Nicole Capuzzi of West Chester, Pennsylvania, said though vaccination appointments are available at her home, she will not be registering.
“I have never gotten unnecessary vaccines before, so why would I want to start now?” Capuzzi (freshman-marketing) said. “I believe that having a good immune system means choice, and for me, I am very skeptical of a vaccine that came out this year.”
Capuzzi said her “biggest concern” is how fast the vaccine has become readily available to the general public.
“I’m definitely skeptical as I have always been when it comes to vaccinations, but more so now when so many people think that things will immediately get better,” Capuzzi said. “Vaccines that are available don’t even have a 100% efficacy rate, so I just don’t see the point.”
Capuzzi said the recent pause of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine was not a surprise but shows how no one knows what “long term” issues could come from vaccines.
“My viewpoint is to live my life how I want, and I personally don’t think that involves two shots,” Capuzzi said. “We’ve all seen how social distancing measures haven’t been working. We need to open everything back up and do what we want for ourselves.”
Capuzzi said she is “all too aware” that her opinions are unpopular, as many of her peers look toward vaccines as the next step into a post-pandemic world.
“The thing is, I don’t really care if people disagree with me. But I do find it ironic that the same people that say ‘your body, your choice’ are demanding people with beliefs like mine get the vaccine no matter what,” Capuzzi said. “It’s totally hypocritical.”
Megan Stoltzfus said she was vaccinated three weeks ago and received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine before the pause. She said due to the low percentage of rare blood clotting, she is not worried about any long-lasting side effects.
“I did have a bad reaction to the vaccine for about a day, but apparently that is a good thing,” Stoltzfus (freshman-elementary education) said. “Even though I was knocked out, I’m a big proponent of vaccines — not just to protect yourself, but to protect others.”
Stolzfus, a State College native, said observing cases rising in her own community was “really difficult to see.”
“I saw how much the spread of the virus on campus affected the geater town and county, and it was really concerning,” Stoltzfus said. “I worried about my friends and families a lot during that time, and it’s one of the main reasons I firmly believe vaccines to be a viable solution.”
Stoltzfus said since Penn State is so large, having vaccines readily available is a privilege “we must capitalize on.”
Like Stoltzfus, Patrick McCartney said he believes vaccines will help, but he does not support mandating them for the fall semester if the university continues restrictions on in-person classes, extracurriculars and sporting events.
“It’s really frustrating because I know why restrictions have to be put in place, but it doesn’t make it any less disappointing,” McCartney (sophomore-finance) said. “But if we all get it and things aren’t different, I will be angry.”
In his second year, McCartney said he has experienced enough of the virtual learning setting and looks forward to getting vaccinated this summer.
“At this point, I’m planning to get vaccinated when I go back home,” McCartney said. “I’m just hoping a lot of other students get it as well. I’d say I speak for most people when I say we just want to get back to some type of normalcy.”
Marissa Haughton, an out-of-state student from Virginia, said she doesn't think vaccines are the “entire solution,” but they’re a big step forward.
“If it was mandatory for me to have multiple vaccines when I moved in during my freshman year, then the coronavirus vaccine should also be on that list,” Haughton (sophomore-biotechnology) said. “With that being said, I’m still a big proponent of continuing to follow health protocols no matter your vaccine decision.”
Haughton said she is most concerned about those in the community who continuously refuse to wear masks.
“While vaccines are a benefit we are now able to receive, masks were there months before, and they can still work effectively to stop the spread,” Haughton said. “It’s really concerning to know that so many of my peers don’t want to even do that.”
Haughton noted that just because someone gets the vaccine, it “doesn’t mean [they] will have immunity forever.”
“Masks are an extra precaution we must all continue to follow,” Haughton said. “I realize Penn State has done what they can, but it is frustrating that the university can’t enforce students to get vaccinated this semester with how quickly the virus spreads.”
Penn State has not said whether it will make coronavirus vaccines mandatory for the fall semester but is “strongly encouraging everyone in [the] community to be vaccinated as soon as they are eligible,” according to the university’s virus information page.
“Without the university’s power, there’s very little certain individuals can do other than being a proponent for widespread vaccination,” Haughton said. “It’s definitely something we will all have to face as the fall gets closer.”
Similarly to Kara, Kareem Metwaly drove 30 minutes to Tyrone, Pennsylvania, to get his first shot of the Moderna vaccine.
Metwaly (graduate-electrical engineering) said he believes getting vaccinated is a responsibility each member of the university should take on and considers it a “priority.”
“While I hope students do decide to get vaccinated, it’s not something that should be mandated,” Metwaly said. “If students wish to attend in-person classes, then maybe the university would have some leverage to go off of then, but I don’t see it being very popular.”
Metwaly said he would propose a hardcore advertising campiagn to attract skeptical students to learn more about the vaccine.
“Frankly, there’s this disconnect that I think could easily be solved with more education,” Metwaly said. “We are so quick to blame others when a solution is right in front of us. Students need to learn the benefits, [and] if we can do that, then I think we all stand a chance.”