*Name changed for anonymity
The state of Maine will allow all residents over the age of 16 to get vaccinated against COVID-19 as of April 7. But, some students at the College have been vaccinated already. Students working for Colby Emergency Response, for example, were able to get shots in January.
In addition, a rash of students got vaccinated in March under the category of “school employees.” Many pharmacies have since clarified that this designation was meant for pre-K-12 schools, not college employees, but some students went ahead regardless.
The Colby Echo conducted a poll on Instagram gauging awareness of this phenomenon and how many students took advantage of it. 61% of 444 respondents were aware that Colby student employees were signing up for vaccines under the “education employee” category before April 7.
21%, or 73 of 351 respondents, attempted to get vaccinated in this way. It is important to note that respondents may not have admitted to doing so because the poll was not anonymous.
When asked if this was ethical, 52% (197 people) said no, and 48% (181 people) said yes.
One student named Maria* said that she received a screenshot from a friend from Walgreens saying that a new phase for vaccine eligibility had begun during which school employees, including those in higher education, could be vaccinated. Excited, she made an appointment for Walgreens in Skowhegan and told her friends. When one of them asked where she got the information, Maria searched for a link with the same information as the screenshot.
When she couldn’t substantiate the information from the screenshot, Maria realized she had made a mistake and canceled her appointment.
“It didn’t seem like [the new phase] was for me,” Maria explained.
One of Maria’s friends called Walgreens to ask if they thought she should cancel her appointment, knowing that she was an employee of the College, not a preschool through 12 school. Walgreens said yes.
Maria then called herself, explained her situation, and was told that she should come to get vaccinated, so Maria rebooked an appointment.
When Maria got to Skowhegan for her appointment, a pharmacist told her that Walgreens had just found out that the education employee qualification only applied to preschool through 12th grade and does not extend to higher education. Maria confirmed again that she should get vaccinated given that information, and the pharmacist said yes.
Walgreens Skowhegan referred The Colby Echo to their corporate public relations office, which has not responded with comment as of publication.
Sam* said that she heard about the option from a student at Bates College who got vaccinated that way. Sam said that she initially felt “extremely guilty,” but after speaking with the pharmacist who gave her the shot, she felt better.
“I realized that at this point in the pandemic it is now more important that we reach herd immunity as a country as fast as possible,” Sam explained. “The pharmacist informed me of the vast amounts of vaccine doses being wasted and that he was ‘just looking for as many arms that he could find.’”
Sam also said that the pharmacist pointed out that young adults spread the virus more than other age groups, so college students getting vaccinated is important to mitigate the spread.
Alex* also attempted to get vaccinated as a school employee. Alex said that he has a health condition that puts him at risk for serious symptoms, so he wanted to get the vaccine as soon as possible.
Alex echoed Sam’s explanation of the benefits of herd immunity.
“Even for people without a health condition, having more people within the community vaccinated will benefit the whole,” he said.
He also noted that the eligibility requirements indicated that anyone employed by the College qualified for the shot, so he “felt that no one was lying about their place in line.”
Alex was worried about judgment from his peers for “stretching the rules.”
“However,” he said. “I ultimately put my health over others’ judgments.”
Saam Rasool `22 did not get the vaccine in this way and felt that his decision was right, as he is not immunocompromised.
“I obviously don’t know everyone’s situation, but I think that most of the people who got the vaccine before the loophole closed should have waited for it to become available to the general public in Maine because our age group experiences less death and serious illness,” Rasool said.
Molly Gardner `22 is a member of Colby Emergency Response (CER) and an Emergency Medical Technician for Delta Ambulance. Gardner was vaccinated in January when Delta offered to get doses for all CER employees through its role as the distributor for emergency personnel in Northern Kennebec County.
Gardner shared that the process for getting vaccinated was very easy and that it has helped her feel more comfortable doing her job.
“It feels a lot safer going in and out of hospitals and sitting in the back of an ambulance with people,” she said.
Gardner still takes the same precautions to protect herself, like wearing a mask but appreciates the peace of mind the vaccine has given her.
“The only difference is it’s not as scary,” Gardner said.” I never leave a patient thinking, ‘Oh I got COVID[-19].’”
Gardner was not required by Delta or CER to get vaccinated, and she said that a few CER members did not get vaccinated for health reasons or because they were not on campus in January.
According to Gardner, among the emergency workers, Delta was responsible for vaccinating (paramedics, EMTs, police, and firefighters), only half elected to receive the shot. That is part of the reason, Gardner said, why the company was excited to vaccinate CER because the student employees were more willing to get vaccinated.
On the issue of other student employees getting vaccinated as school workers, Gardner had mixed feelings. She said herd immunity is the ultimate goal and that she doesn’t want doses to go to waste, but also noted Colby students are not the people who extra doses should go to because of the testing regimen and their removal from the rest of the community.
But, she added, if Colby students are the only people willing to get the extra doses, it makes sense.
“In my town in Minnesota, no one wants vaccines. They have 75 open appointments a day,” she said.
Dean of Students Barbara Moore sent an email to all students on April 5 regarding vaccines. She reminded everyone to continue following COVID-19 mitigation procedures, shared resources for signing up for vaccines after April 7, and asked that students report their vaccination records to the school at https://colby.medicatconnect.com/.
Moore shared that the College offered to be a vaccination site with the Maine CDC but that it is unlikely a clinic will be set up on Colby’s campus this semester. The College is not requiring community members to get vaccinated this semester but encourages everyone to do so if they can.
According to the College’s health, safety, and resources page, students who can get vaccinated in their home states are allowed to travel out of state to do so. If students get their vaccine without an overnight stay off-campus, they need not quarantine upon arrival. If they do stay overnight, the regular quarantine policy for out-of-state travel applies.
The Colby Echo is waiting on a statement from Medical Director Scott Lowman on the administration’s stance on students getting vaccinated before April 7.
~ Sonia Lachter ‘22