According to the Tennessee State Government’s COVID-19 website, COVID-19 vaccines are available in all 95 counties. Currently, frontline healthcare workers, dependent disabled adults, outpatient healthcare workers with direct patient exposure, K-12 child care staff, first responder operations personnel and anyone aged 65 or above are eligible to receive the vaccine.
Individuals living in college dormitories are included in a later stage of the government’s vaccination plan but are not yet eligible, and the time of that phase has yet to be determined. However, students in Southern’s nursing program were made eligible to be vaccinated in January, according to Clinical Coordinator Marla Erskine. Some have already received the first dose.
Erskine said the School of Nursing would only require students in its program to receive the vaccine if the hospitals where the school conducts clinicals began requiring their healthcare workers to do so. According to Erskine, students accepted into the nursing program this semester will begin clinicals in the seventh week of the semester, and students who were already in the program began clinicals in the second week.
The School of Nursing strongly encourages students in its program to be vaccinated because their risk of exposure in the clinical environment is high, according to Holly Gadd, the school’s dean. Gadd said all students in the nursing program are provided a letter of support indicating that they are involved in healthcare and thus eligible for the vaccine.
According to junior nursing major Ashley Rivera, nursing students received an email from the School of Nursing on Jan. 11 informing them they were eligible to be vaccinated. Rivera received the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine on Jan. 31 and is planning to receive her second dose on Feb. 26.
“It was actually the least painful injection I have received in a long while,” Rivera said. “With the flu vaccine, I have almost no use of my arm for two days after, but with the COVID-19 vaccine, there was barely any soreness at all.”
Rivera said she is very happy she was vaccinated and would recommend that other students be vaccinated as well. However, she has heard that the second dose has stronger side effects of fatigue and arm soreness than the first.
Senior nursing major Jaira Luna will receive her second dose today, Feb. 24. Before receiving her first dose on Feb. 3, Luna said she felt anxious. Although her parents were not opposed to her getting the vaccine, they advised her to “think about it thoroughly and do plenty of research.” For Luna, receiving the vaccine did not hurt, but she did experience arm soreness for the next two days. However, she also felt a strong sense of peace and protection for not only herself but also the people around her.
“I believe it should be required for all nursing students,” Luna said. “We are highly exposed to it by just being in the hospital, even if we’re not specifically on the COVID floors.”
Junior nursing major Samuel Kumendong received his first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine on Feb. 7. He is planning to receive his second dose sometime after Feb. 28. Kumendong’s parents did not like the idea of Kumendong receiving the vaccine because of the prevalent conspiracy theories that the vaccine contained a microchip and of the fact that there was no data present on the vaccine’s long term effects. After taking the first dose, Kumendong said he felt a slight tingling sensation and a small amount of soreness and tiredness.
“The way I see it, it’s better to have the side effects of the vaccine for a week or so and get that over with than to be intubated in the hospital for months,” Kumendong said. “But in the end, everyone has their own reasons. [I] can’t judge.”
Rivera, Luna and Kumendong all received the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at the CARTA Bus Barn in Downtown Chattanooga.