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In a step toward normalcy, UNC vaccinates its first students

“It feels great to have this opportunity, and I really feel like I’m getting a piece of my life back by doing this,” Alex Long said. .

Just over a year after the University shut down in-person operations when COVID-19 hit, students saw a flicker of the light at the end of the tunnel. 

At the former Wendy's restaurant in the bottom of the Student Union, UNC opened its first on-campus vaccine clinic on Wednesday from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Students across campus were eager to get their one-shot dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine on the first day the clinic was open, making them the first students to receive the vaccine through the University. 

One such student was Cutter Wyatt, a first-year graduate student in the Gillings School of Global Public Health. He said after he got an email about scheduling his appointment, he was signed up just five minutes later. 

"I feel like I was probably one of the first people to sign up for it," Wyatt said. 

Junior Alex Long said he was initially nervous about the side effects he might experience after his shot. But he felt much more comfortable after those working at the vaccine clinic made sure he was educated about receiving the vaccine.  

Now that he's been able to get the shot, Long said it feels like a step toward normalcy. 

“It feels great to have this opportunity, and I really feel like I’m getting a piece of my life back by doing this,” he said. 

How it works

After checking in for appointments, students are directed to one of six vaccination stations, where Campus Health employees filling out documentation are paired with student volunteers administering the vaccine. 

These student volunteers come from a variety of health sciences programs at UNC, including nursing and Emergency Medical Services. 

Volunteer Lea Yorke, a junior in the School of Nursing, said she’s excited to work hands-on to stop the pandemic — especially after learning remotely for so long. 

“It’s really rewarding to be here,” she said. “It’s nice to feel like I’m doing something useful.”

After receiving the vaccine, students are directed to a waiting area where they stay for 15 minutes to ensure they do not have a reaction to the vaccine. In the case of a reaction, there is also an administration station set up to help students. 

With the vaccine clinic up and running, the University hopes to continue receiving enough doses from the state to vaccinate a large number of students. 

This initial shipment of vaccines included 2,000 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine

Ken Pittman, the executive director of Campus Health, said the University expressed a preference for the Johnson & Johnson vaccine to the state because of its one-dose administration. However, the brand of vaccine could vary weekly. 

“While we have expressed to the state that it is our preference to have Johnson & Johnson, there’s no guarantee," he said. “We are certainly equipped in our vaccine clinic to provide both Pfizer and Moderna to students if that became our allocation.”

A step in the right direction

Prior to the clinic’s opening, Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz expressed his thanks to clinic volunteers for their contribution to putting an end to the pandemic. 

“Getting students vaccinated is going to be the next step toward stopping the spread of this virus,” Guskiewicz said at the opening.

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Provost Bob Blouin also appeared at the opening. He said the clinic will be integral to the University’s return to normalcy. 

“Today is the first day that we can probably really say that we see the end of the tunnel,” Blouin said. “We all have big plans for next fall. In order to really bring this campus back together, to do what it really aspires to do and fully pursue the mission of this University, days like today have to be successful.”

Though there is still uncertainty ahead regarding the course of the pandemic, Pittman said the opening of an on-campus clinic is exciting, especially considering the state of the pandemic just a year ago.

“It’s thrilling after a year of COVID care for our students and COVID testing, and isolation and quarantine,” Pittman said. “I think this is the hope for so many of our college students who have been waiting their turn to get the vaccine, of a return to some sense of normalcy both for their summer and for our return to campus in the fall.”