It was a moment Darby Leid ’22 has been looking forward to for months. Sitting calmly in a chair in the Viniar Athletic Center, Leid did not flinch as Joan Thompson, a registered nurse, jabbed a needle into her left arm.
The shot was quick, but its impact was significant. An economics major from Wayland, Mass., Leid was the first of 50 students inoculated on campus with the single-dose Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine Friday afternoon.
The College’s Health Services received 600 doses of the J&J vaccine reserved specifically for students who pre-registered. The first 50 slots were filled in under 10 minutes, underscoring the point that most students are eager to be vaccinated so they can resume social activities. The remaining 550 doses will be administered next week.
“I want to help our community,” said Leid, a 5-foot-9 guard on the women’s basketball team and a member of the Liberty League All-Academic Team in 2019-20. “I also want to keep my friends and family safe. I had signed up to get the shot at a church near campus next week, but it’s nicer to get it here at Union.”
Union has been aggressively pursuing the vaccine for all members of the campus community. Officials have been working with Schenectady County Public Health Services, New York State Department of Health and the Commission on Independent Colleges and Universities (CICU) to secure doses to be administered on campus.
“This is a game changer for Union,” Angela Stefanatos, director of Health Services, said of the campus clinic. “This is what we need to control cases and to be closer to return to some measure of normalcy.”
On Friday, a steady stream of students filed into the pop-up clinic to be inoculated. Volunteers from across campus departments greeted them and helped check them in.
Members of Health Services administer the actual shots. Alexandra Gootman ’22, a neuroscience major, a certified EMT and captain of Union College Emergency Medical Services (EMS), received special training to assist. After receiving their shots, students were offered snacks and drinks while they waited 15 minutes to make sure there was no immediate adverse side effects.
The arrival of the vaccines on campus comes as 456 employees and 584 students have already reported receiving at least one dose of the vaccine. It also comes as the College has experienced a slight downtick in positive COVID-19 cases. The latest testing results show 27 active cases (26 students, 1 faculty/staff) and 37 students in quarantine.
College students have contributed to the spread of the virus nationwide. More than 120,000 cases have been linked to American colleges and universities since Jan. 1, and more than 530,000 cases have been reported since the beginning of the pandemic, according to a New York Times tracker.
“The single-dose vaccines are ideal for college students – a high-risk population both for getting and spreading COVID-19 – since many of them will return home at the end of the semester,” said Schenectady County Legislator Sara Mae Pratt, vice-chair of the Committee on Health & Human Services. “We are happy we were able to help secure these doses and will continue working with the college to keep their students and staff healthy.”
Kenny Ao ’23, a mechanical engineering major from China, signed up to get the shot as soon as an email went out about the appointments. As an international student, he wants to be vaccinated to travel. He also hopes it will mean a full return to in-person classes.
"I have two in-person and two remote classes,” he said. “I prefer in-person classes.”
In addition to the J&J doses, the College also expects to receive 100 doses of the two-shot Moderna vaccine Monday that will be available for faculty, staff and students by appointment.
“We are thrilled to be able to assist our community with getting vaccinated,” said Fran'Cee Brown-McClure, vice president for Student Affairs and Dean of Students. “We are thankful to the partnership of Schenectady County Public Health Services, New York State Department of Health and the CICU.”