Socially distanced chairs were spread throughout the excitement-filled OU Armory as roughly 4,000 people came through the streamlined vaccine clinic by OU Health Services on Friday.
People from across the OU community began to line up early Friday morning to receive the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine which had 66.3 percent efficacy in clinical trials, according to the CDC. Dr. Dale Bratzler, OU’s chief COVID-19 officer, said it’s important for the college student community to become vaccinated, as the 18 to 35 age range represents the majority of cases in Oklahoma.
“I think it's really important that we get as many people in Oklahoma vaccinated as we possibly can, because every single dose does contribute to herd immunity,” Bratzler said. “We know that at the peak of the pandemic, the age group that got the infection most commonly was in that college age group. … It's a really important population to get vaccinated because, though they don't get nearly as sick when they get to disease, they can spread it to other people.”
Although the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines sport higher efficacy rates of 97 percent and 94 percent respectively, Bratzler said the decision to use the Johnson & Johnson vaccine was due to the timing issues the university would face using a two-dose vaccine.
“We chose to use Johnson & Johnson because if we were giving a two-dose vaccine, we'd have to have everybody come back in three weeks or four weeks — and remember, side effects from the other vaccines are much more common after the second dose, which was going to be pushing towards finals week and graduation activities,” Bratzler said. “With Johnson & Johnson, people are going to have some side effects ... but we're going to get it done now, well before the end of the semester.”
Zack Jines, a neuroscience freshman, said the use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine worried him whenever he first signed up for an appointment due to the efficacy rating compared to the other vaccines that are currently being administered. However, he said a nurse talked to him about the difference between the vaccines, giving him more confidence in the shot.
Jines said it was good to see people not being afraid to take the vaccine, as roughly 40 percent of Americans are undecided or say they won’t receive the vaccine.
“It's pretty neat, it's nice to see so many people being proactive and trying to get the vaccine,” Jines said. “It's nice to see people not afraid of it, because I know there's a lot of people that think it’s scary or whatever, but they are doing a good job. It's very organized and spaced out, and everyone's super receptive.”
Bratzler also said people shouldn’t be scared of the vaccine because the chances of long-term complications from COVID-19 are worse than the chance of a strong reaction to the vaccine.
“When you look at the complications of COVID-19, they are far more common than any reactions from these vaccines,” Bratzler said. “Lots of people will get a sore arm and that's your immune system. But serious adverse reactions with these vaccines are exceedingly uncommon, on the magnitude of two to five per million doses. So your risk of any serious adverse reaction from these vaccines is exceedingly low. But the benefits are easy to quantify in reduced complications.”
Some of the possible long-term effects of COVID-19 include shortness of breath, chest pain, depression, acute kidney injury and lung function abnormalities, according to the CDC.
Before Friday’s vaccination clinic, the university had administered 3,699 doses as of March 22, according to a university email. The clinic was open to all OU students, faculty, staff and family members of faculty and staff.
Evan Searcy, a public health junior and a volunteer for the event, said the people who came to the clinic were “from all walks of life.”
“It's a very diverse population,” Searcy said. “It's very uplifting to see, you know, just a lot of people banding together for the common good.”
Searcy also said he was excited to be a part of a large-scale event.
“As a community health public health major, it's pretty cool to be part of something that will most definitely be at least talked about for years and years to come,” Searcy said. “It's cool to see what I will eventually hopefully be working on that kind of thing in action.”
Erik Macareno, a public health junior who received the vaccine at the clinic, said the vaccination clinic showed the strength of the OU community.
“I think it's really awesome to see everyone coming together for one common purpose, which is to get vaccinated,” Macareno said. “I think it really speaks a lot about our community, how connected we are and how important our health is for us.”
Macareno also said he hopes the event will be part of the return to normalcy, which campus has begun to see with the announcement of fully in-person classes in the fall and plans to have full capacities at football games.
Bratzler said the university is looking at lowering the social distancing requirements, if the state’s COVID-19 numbers stay low.
“We're watching very closely what's happening to the state's total rate of new infections daily, and then also what we're seeing in Cleveland County. If those numbers get low enough, then we can really back off on a lot of the mitigation,” Bratzler said. “We're already having conversations about whether we can reduce some of the social distancing requirements. We're going to continue doing masking through the spring semester. But the reality is that if we stay on the path that we are on now, if cases keep declining in Oklahoma, I really hope to have a fall semester for you guys that's like you're remembering the past.”
The Oklahoma State Health Department recently announced a change to weekly case updates instead of daily updates. The change occurred as 30 other states reported increasing daily COVID-19 cases this week, according to Health-line.
The CDC recently announced in a March 19 press release it now recommends classrooms have three feet in between students when masks are required.
Bratzler said in an interview with the Daily in January the university will likely not require students to receive the vaccine before returning to campus. Rutgers University announced March 25 that students will be required to receive a vaccine before coming to campus in the fall.
Bratzler also said the university will look at the demand for vaccines and see if another vaccine clinic on campus will be necessary.
“We're assessing whether there's enough demand to do another event on the Norman campus,” Bratzler said. “We did not fill all 4000 appointments as quickly as we thought we would, so we're going to assess that to see if there is enough demand to have another big event here on the Norman campus, but we always offer the vaccine at the Goddard Health Services.”