Editor’s Note Episode 21: Vaccine Rollout and Possible Mandate

| Senior Scene Editor

More students are getting vaccinated on Washington University’s Medical School campus following the switch to the Pfizer vaccine, and the University is now whether or not to require vaccination before the fall semester. In this week’s episode, Senior Scene Editor Olivia Poolos talked with Senior News Editor Orli Sheffey and Junior News Editor Grace Kennard about the administration’s decision making process. Senior Multimedia Editor Kamala Madireddi edited the audio. Copy Chief  JJ Coley wrote the theme music.

This episode of Editor’s Note can also be found on Spotify.

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Graphic by Christine Watridge | Student Life

Transcript:

OLIVIA POOLOS (0:09-1:41): More than four months into Missouri’s vaccine rollout, vaccination efforts are still underway on Washington University’s Medical School campus, and there are questions about a possible vaccine mandate for next fall. In Missouri, anyone over the age of 16 can get vaccinated against COVID-19. Washington University students are able to sign up for vaccine slots through the University or local St. Louis pharmacies and clinics. However, a few roadblocks still remain. 

I’m Olivia Poolos, and you’re listening to Editor’s Note, Student Life’s weekly podcast breaking down our biggest stories with the reporters and editors that covered them.

The recent pause of the Johnson and Johnson vaccine, which came after six women developed blood clots in the weeks following their vaccinations, prompted the University’s switch to the Pfizer vaccine. The administration is also in the midst of deciding whether or not to require vaccination before the 2021 fall semester. 

I sat down with Senior News Editor Orli Sheffey and Junior News Editor Grace Kennard, who have reported on the University’s vaccination plans, to talk through the administration’s decision-making process and student reactions. 

Sheffey, who spoke with Interim Senior Administrator at the School of Medicine Dr. Eva Aagaard, said that the pause on the J&J vaccine, which was initially offered to students, did not delay the vaccination process too much.

ORLI SHEFFEY (1:42-2:09): They wanted to find a solution and find a way to vaccinate the community, so Dr. Eva Aagaard said that immediately she had a phone call with other health experts at the University. And, in partnership with Barnes Jewish, she requested a redistribution agreement through the state to reroute a supply Pfizer vaccine to the University’s vaccination clinic and within two hours that request was approved. So it was a very smooth transition.

OP (2:10-2:19): Three days after the J&J pause, on the first day of Pfizer distribution, Sheffey witnessed students receive their Pfizer shots on the Med School campus.

OS (2:20- 2:48): Every student and person on staff that I spoke with said that it was a really positive experience, that it was going really smoothly. Students did not report longer wait times. It was only 20 minutes at most for them, so it was a very quick, easy experience. The 500 appointments that were scheduled for the Johnson and Johnson vaccine on the 16th were able to be rescheduled for that Friday and nearly all of them were able to get Pfizer that day.

OP (2:49-3:03): The second dose of many students who received the Pfizer this past week does land right before final exams. Do you know if the University has a plan to help students who are suffering from side effects as they’re studying or are taking exams? 

OS (3:04-3:27): That’s definitely a concern that many students had. I don’t know if the University will be making any accommodations for students who are suffering from side effects during their final exams. But I do know that the Director of Occupational Health at the School of Medicine, Amanda Wilkins, had told me that they’re offering four different dates where students can get their second doses to give them some flexibility.

OP (3:28-3:44): During her visit to the vaccination site, Sheffey spoke with nurse Renee Freeman, who was administering vaccines that day. Freeman said that for many, getting the vaccine is surprisingly emotional. Sheffey said it was moving to watch the vaccination process in action. 

OS (3:45-3:56): Students have been in this pandemic for more than a year now. So for many, the vaccine is really a sign of hope and a sign of relief that we can get back to normal soon.

OP (3:57-4:17): As more and more students are getting vaccinated, there are questions about what the fall and new normal will look like. Kennard, who reported on the University’s deliberation on whether or not to mandate the vaccine, said that she wasn’t surprised about the slightly slower timeline for the fall plan compared to the smooth transition to the Pfizer vaccine. 

GRACE KENNARD (4:18-4:43) The main difference is sort of the temporal aspect. So like Orli just said, the University wants to vaccinate as many community members as they can. Because they have this partnership with Barnes Jewish, it was relatively easy to switch over so quickly between vaccines, but with deciding a vaccine mandate for next year, there’s a lot more factors that go into that. 

OP (4:44-4:59): At some other colleges, such as Cornell, Duke and Northeastern, administrators have already stated that they are mandating the vaccine for fall. Kennard noted that their announcements come at a critical time of the year—college decision-making for the class of 2025.   

GK (5:00-5:19): All these students were just admitted to the schools, right, so there’s thousands of admitted students at schools across the country that are trying to decide where they want to enroll for the next four years. So I think this adds a particular layer to this whole conversation around the vaccine requirement.

OP (5:20-5:31): While Wash. U. has not explicitly stated that the incoming freshman class is a part of the discussions of a possible vaccine mandate, Kennard noted it may play a role in their final decision. 

GK (5:32-5:52) :All these schools are trying to figure out the best way to safely hold a more normal school year while there’s also all these high school seniors deciding where they want to go to school. And so, I’m not sure exactly how much a vaccine requirement would influence decisions like that, but I’m sure, for some people, it does.

OP (5:53-6:18): Kennard said that Dr. Steve Lawrence, who has played a large role in advising COVID precautions on campus, did not clarify a particular medical stance on whether or not vaccines should be required. Kennard mentioned that many aspects of the process of mandating a vaccine are not clear, such as when the University would release the decision. 

However, Kennard did find that some students have strong feelings about what the University should do in the fall. 

GK (6:19-6:49): I spoke with junior David Mathisson, who is a senator and a part of SU. And he said 100% he thinks that we should have a vaccine mandate, and he was really passionate about making sure that that included faculty and staff as well, which I think is an important aspect here, because obviously students are going to think about students a lot but we’re all sharing the same spaces on campus.

OP (6:50-7:21): Another student who has strong feelings about vaccination is former Senior Forum Editor Kya Vaughn. Vaughn recently wrote two opinion pieces on the subject––one encouraging current students to get vaccinated despite the Johnson and Johnson pause, and another directed at the University, asking for mandated vaccines in the fall.  

I spoke with her to discuss the motivation behind her articles. 

So in the past week, you’ve written two opinion pieces about vaccines. Why are you so passionate about this topic in particular? 

KYA VAUGHN (7:22-8:09): Well I’m passionate about this topic, specifically because I feel like, I mean, as we’ve all seen, our actions with this virus and our interactions with it have a lot of impacts on everybody, you know around us, our entire society. And I feel like a lot of times with the virus, people are getting information from so many different sources and some of it is inaccurate and I think it can lead to a lot of fear [and] the spread of a lot of misinformation, which can ultimately impact our decisions which ultimately impacts our health as a society.

So for me it’s been important to kind of try to address some of these issues up front where I can, to kind of help people find this information quickly and accurately, so they can make the right decision for themselves and their health and the health of others. 

OP (8:09-8:16): Vaughn said that she personally knows people who haven’t felt 100% confident in the vaccine. 

KV (8:17-8:33) I have friends, I have family members who were hesitant of getting vaccinated, and I definitely wrote this article––or both of these articles, rather––with them in mind as well. I tried to write from the perspective of: if I were my friends and family who are in this position, what would I want somebody to say to me?

OP (8:34-8:57): As the University continues to provide updates about fall planning and vaccination efforts, the Student Life news team will continue to report on any changes. 

Editor’s Note will be back next week to break down another developing story. For Student Life Media, I’m Olivia Poolos. 

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