A year and a half after the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, a seemingly “normal” fall semester is underway in Happy Valley — and both trepidation and excitement are in the air.
But with talk of vaccine protection waning over time after inoculation, students like Erin Steiner are looking to put their trust in booster shots to keep that ‘normal’ feeling alive.
“I don’t think any of us were fully educated on how vaccines worked to begin with,” Steiner (sophomore-supply chain management) said. “Vaccine boosters weren’t even on my radar a few months ago.”
Steiner said she received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine in May through the university’s Bryce Jordan Center vaccination clinic.
The J&J, or Janssen, vaccine, which was 66.3% effective in clinical trials for people who had no evidence of prior infection two weeks after receiving the vaccine, according to the Centers for Disease Control, only requires one shot.
While all three of the vaccines being distributed in the United States — Pfizer BioNTech, Moderna and J&J — are still preventing hospitalizations and deaths from the coronavirus, they do not appear as strong against the delta variant, according to the CDC.
“It is alarming that the variant has become so highly transmissible,” Steiner said. “There is some comfort in knowing [vaccine boosters] could be a solution.”
As part of President Joe Biden’s campaign to administer 100 million booster shots beginning Sept. 20, most American adults who have been fully vaccinated are encouraged to receive a booster shot eight months after their initial dosage, according to a press briefing by the White House COVID-19 Response Team.
Announced on Aug. 16, the campaign identifies recipients of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines as eligible, according to the New York Times.
On Sept. 8, Dr. Janet Woodcock, the acting commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, and Dr. Rochelle P. Walensky, who heads the CDC, warned the White House their agencies may be able to determine in the coming weeks whether to recommend boosters only for recipients of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, according to the New York Times.
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Before getting vaccinated, Steiner said she had researched more about Pfizer and Moderna vaccines but decided to go with the J&J vaccine — as it was the first one available to her.
“I want to be able to say I did absolutely everything possible to protect myself and those around me,” Steiner said. “It is a little frustrating knowing that some things are out of my control and that I won’t be getting the [booster shot] as quickly as say someone who got Pfizer.”
Khalid Almahmood said he will wait for approval from medical professionals before going ahead with any type of booster shot.
He said he will receive his second dose of the Pfizer vaccine next week.
“Since I did receive my vaccine so late compared to others my age, my immunity has a different timeline,” Almahmood (sophomore-mathematics) said. “I’m not as inclined to get a booster shot as quickly as say the majority of my peers who received their vaccines months ago.”
Almahmood said the most important thing to him right now is his safety.
“Being an immunocompromised individual, regardless of my doubts, I want to get a booster shot,” Almahmood said. “I would always prefer to have some kind of protection but will wait until it is approved by my doctors.”
As of Sept. 8, 66.6% of Pennsylvanians 18 and older are fully vaccinated, and 83.2% of Pennsylvanians 18 and older have received at least one dose, according to Gov. Tom Wolf's Wednesday vaccination update.
Pennsylvania’s daily vaccine update: 12,332,239 vaccines administered66.6% of PA’ians 18+ fully vaccinated83.2% of PA’ians 18+ have received at least one doseNational ranking in first doses administered: 9— Governor Tom Wolf (@GovernorTomWolf) September 8, 2021
Avi Rachlin is the founder of Penn State Resistance, an organization established after Penn State President Eric Barron mandated masks indoors for the fall semester.
“I am not anti-vax,” Rachlin (junior-business management) said. “I have gotten every single vaccine and even just got my flu shot yesterday.”
Rachlin said the distrust he has in the coronavirus vaccines specifically are due to the lack of long-term studies and hard data.
“When we take this more locally, the majority of people on this campus are vaccinated,” Rachlin said. “It is a small percentage, but there are thousands of others including myself who have opted not to [get vaccinated] as well.”
Rachlin said he was “pleasantly surprised” the university did not mandate vaccines unlike other Big Ten counterparts.
But when it comes to vaccine booster shots, Rachlin said he believes them to be “not combative at all.”
“As the pandemic goes on, and as these variants continue to develop because they will, [the variants] become resistant to vaccines,” Rachlin said. “To constantly get booster shots every five months for a virus to go right through — it just doesn’t make any sense.”
Other students like Eddie Ubri, received the Moderna vaccine and said he fully supports the federal government's booster shot campaign.
“I know people who only think of vaccines as this malicious thing,” Ubri (senior-computer science) said. “I try to stay out of the politics of it all but, if it can save my life, I'm going to get it.”
The Pfizer vaccine booster may be the only one to get Food and Drug Administration and CDC approval needed in time for Biden’s Sept. 20 rollout, according to Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and White House chief medical advisor, in a recent television interview.
However, Ubri said he is not worried about the delay of booster shots to those like himself who received the Moderna vaccine.
“I didn’t know that boosters were even needed in the first place,” Ubri said, “but I have no issue with the progression of medicine.”
Locally, coronavirus cases have been on the rise.
As of Aug. 30, Centre County entered the highest level for community transmission of the coronavirus and has remained in that classification, according to the CDC’s latest county-level data update.
Ubri said he hopes vaccine boosters can help shift the narrative.
“I don’t want to keep wearing a mask in class,” Ubri said. “I don’t want to have to worry about things I didn’t have to worry about before COVID. But I also know we all have our part.”
Lingwen Wang is required to go to weekly testing on campus as part of the university’s plan to test all students who are either unvaccinated or have not submitted their vaccination status.
However, Wang (senior-media studies) has already been vaccinated — in China.
“Even though I have been vaccinated, because it was a vaccine from my home country, I am still required to produce a weekly [negative] test,” Wang said. “It is very frustrating because I shouldn't have to.”
The Zhifei vaccine, more publicly known as the ZF2001 vaccine, was approved for emergency use in China in March, according to Reuters.
The three-dose vaccine has a 78% efficacy rate against the delta variant according to trial data released by a unit of Chongqing Zhifei Biological Products.
Wang said he still doesn’t feel entirely safe on campus as cases continue to spread but looks to booster shots as a symbol of “encouragement.”
It is unknown to Wang whether he would be able to qualify for a booster shot.
“I think we all thought just the vaccine would be enough, but if the pandemic has taught us one thing, it is that you can never count out this virus from continuing to come back.”
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