‘A huge event in history’: Students recount COVID-19 vaccination experiences

Students+in+the+Pitt+Nursing+and+Pharmacy+schools+received+emails+informing+them+of+their+eligibility+to+receive+the+COVID-19+vaccine+through+the+UPMC+hospitals.+

Eliot Blondet, Abaca Press | TNS

Students in the Pitt Nursing and Pharmacy schools received emails informing them of their eligibility to receive the COVID-19 vaccine through the UPMC hospitals.

By Punya Bhasin, Staff Writer

Ragini Rangan got her first dose of the Moderna vaccine last Tuesday at UPMC Mercy South Side Outpatient Center. While she described the needle as the size of a regular flu shot, its purpose was much bigger.

It felt like a big step in making sure everyone in the world can be safe and get back to normal again,” Rangan, a first-year pharmacy major, said.

Rangan is one of numerous Pitt health care students who have received the coronavirus vaccine through UPMC in an effort to protect them during their clinical rotations and internships. Pitt is also partnering with the Allegheny County Health Department to provide vaccinations for up to 800 people on Thursday and Friday at the Petersen Events Center. Students in “clinical-facing positions” who meet Pennsylvania’s Group 1A health care personnel designation will be eligible for a shot.

Pitt is still awaiting approval from the state to be an independent vaccine provider, which would allow the COVID-19 Medical Response Office to provide its own guidelines about what students, faculty and staff are next in line to receive a vaccine based on guidances from the ACHD and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Rangan said she was notified about her eligibility for the vaccine through her Pitt email last Tuesday — the same day she was vaccinated.

“I got an email from student services at the pharmacy school that told me that UPMC allotted some vaccines because we have internships, rotations and jobs in the hospital setting that could potentially cause us to be more in contact with the virus directly,” Rangan said.

While Rangan didn’t experience any pain while receiving the shot, she did have a sore arm after that quickly went away. She is now waiting for the second dose of her vaccine alongside many other students who are patiently waiting to begin their vaccination process.

Kayla-Drew Bravo, a sophomore nursing major, is set to get the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine on Monday. She said she gets emotional thinking about getting the vaccine.

“I fully trust the research and studies surrounding the vaccine, so I am not feeling nervous, but rather I am feeling emotional and excited,” Bravo said. “Getting the vaccine is a huge event in history, and it feels heroic as well, because I feel as though while the physical action of getting the vaccine may not seem heroic, I am helping my patients, my friends and my fellow colleagues by taking this vaccine.”

But some students were more nervous about getting the vaccine. Colin Bashline, a junior emergency medicine major, said he was hesitant about the vaccine at first, but after conducting research was “quite convinced” in the effectiveness of the vaccine.

“I did have some hesitation about getting the vaccine, just because of how quickly it came out, so I decided to research the vaccines,” Bashline said. “The data is there to prove the effectiveness of it.”

Bashline got the first dose of the Pfizer vaccine on Dec. 21 at West Penn Hospital and the second dose on Jan. 9. He said while he did experience some symptoms such as soreness, a low-grade fever and headaches they went away quickly, and he is confident in the vaccine’s safety.

“After getting the vaccine I still remain convinced that, as far as vaccines go, this vaccine is just as safe as any other vaccines we may take,” Bashline said. “My arm was sore for a couple of days after the first shot. The second shot was a bit different, because the day after I had mild to moderate soreness all over, a headache and I think that I had a low-grade fever as well.”

Rangan said it’s important to have the correct information about the COVID-19 vaccine from reputable sources, because she’s personally seen a lot of misinformation online.

“The most important thing is to be educated about the vaccine and debunking the many myths surrounding the vaccine,” Rangan said. “Look at the CDC website and verified posts to find your information, because I have seen a lot of conspiracy theories out there that are simply not true.”

Ilane Saad, a senior pharmacy major, said getting the vaccine gave her “peace of mind.” Saad got the first dose of the Moderna vaccine on Dec. 27 at UPMC Shadyside clinic and is scheduled to get the second dose on Monday. Saad said her decision to get the vaccine was a protective measure since she works as a pharmacy intern at UPMC Shadyside. At this job, she sometimes delivers items to the COVID-19 patient floors.

“I wanted to have peace of mind because, while I dont have direct patient contact, I did go to the COVID floors, which always made me anxious,” Saad said. “And also I wanted to be protected for other people because I wouldn’t want to compromise the health of the people who are in the hospital and pose a threat to their health.”

Saad said after her first dose, her only symptom was a sore arm, which went away within a couple of hours.

While students like Ilane found some sense of ease after receiving the vaccine, other students still do not feel safe from the coronavirus. Rangan said getting the vaccine didn’t change her routine of wearing a mask and following social distancing guidelines, and she is still afraid of the virus.

“As of right now, I do not feel safer after getting the vaccine immediately just because getting the vaccine doesn’t mean I am fully protected,” Rangan said. “I would feel safer after about a month or two because that is when I know that my antibodies have developed and my body has created a specific immune response to the virus.”

Alex Aubin, a sophomore pharmacy student, said he also still follows social distancing guidelines and wears masks after getting his second dose of the Pfizer vaccine at UPMC Mercy on Jan. 8. He got his first dose on Dec. 22.

“Even though after getting the second dose of the vaccine I am considered to be 95% protected against the virus, it is still extremely important to be setting an example of safety for your community by social distancing and wearing a mask,” Aubin said.

Aubin is doing more than getting vaccinated himself. He got certified by the state board to administer vaccines in October. While he didn’t know in October that he would be able to administer COVID-19 vaccines, he is thrilled to help his fellow medical professionals.

“It will be exciting to start making a difference in the community,” Aubin said.

Bravo, another health care student, also said she wants to make a positive impact in her community during the pandemic by getting a vaccine.

“I think that for my own children and for future generations I can say, ‘Yes I took that vaccine,’” Bravo said. “I was there to help, and I survived the pandemic.”

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