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At College of Charleston, a COVID-19 vaccine clinic draws eager students

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Lauryn Corry hadn’t had breakfast and she wasn’t yet done with all of her classes for the year. But the College of Charleston junior approached a stout brick building on a recent morning, ready to end a monthslong wait: She was about to get a coronavirus vaccine.

Moments later, the political science major was relieved as she sat in the waiting room of the campus health center.

“It’s a step forward to end this mess,” said Corry, 21. “I’m just really happy that I did my part.”

Senior Jordana Gruber sports her bandage after she received a dose of the Moderna vaccine during a clinic at the College of Charleston on Monday, April 26, 2021. Grace Beahm Alford/Staff

State public health officials in recent weeks have expressed concerns about a drop in demand for coronavirus vaccines despite many more shots needed to reach herd immunity. Experts estimate at least 70 percent of the population needs to be vaccinated in order to achieve that benchmark.

Young adults make up the majority of newly reported cases in South Carolina and getting them vaccinated now is critical, said Dr. Brannon Traxler, the state’s public health director.

The effort to reach young people is a challenge across the nation. So much so, that West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice said his state will offer a $100 savings bond to residents 16 to 35 years old who choose to get vaccinated.

Last month, epidemiologist and former University of South Carolina President Harris Pastides said that it might have been a good idea to vaccinate younger people earlier to slow down the spread of the virus. They are less likely to follow public health recommendations and more eager to socialize in groups than older adults, he said.

When asked about the hypothetical scenario of getting a shot earlier, Corry’s eyes widened in agreement.

“We do put people at risk,” she said. “We’re vectors.”

In January, the school’s president, Andrew Hsu, announced mandatory testing of students after he received reports of large gatherings and parties where mask and social distancing guidelines were not followed. He threatened a possible closure of campus after an “alarming rise of COVID-19 cases.”

Campus nurse Elizabeth Burnett gestures at a student to receive a vaccine in a room at the College of Charleston’s health center on Monday, April 26, 2021. Grace Beahm Alford/Staff

Those numbers eventually dropped.

To date, the college has had more than 1,285 cases among students. Included in that number were some who showed up to get a vaccine shot at the campus health center on April 26.

School officials have been considering whether to make it mandatory that those who return for the fall semester get vaccinated. Currently, they are only recommending it.

But the decision could soon be taken out of their hands. A clause in the over $10 billion state spending package approved on April 29 by the state Senate bans public colleges from making COVID-19 vaccination a condition for being on campus in the upcoming school year.

Along with hoping to end the pandemic, students who got shots said they were motivated by parents, the chance to protect loved ones and peer pressure.

“Everyone’s doing it,” said Dawson Holmes, 20, moments after getting jabbed in the arm.

Lee Penny, director of the College of Charleston’s campus health center, helped students register for a coronavirus vaccine clinic on Monday, April 26, 2021. Grace Beahm Alford/Staff

Lee Penny, director of the campus health center, said it is unclear how many of the school’s roughly 10,400 students have been vaccinated. More than 670 have received shots through the center so far, and additional vaccination clinics are planned throughout the spring and summer. Some students who had appointments on the recent day did not show up for their scheduled time.

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While Penny checked in the students who did come to the clinic, others passed by the center in downtown Charleston without stopping.

“Would you like to get your COVID vaccine? You can do it quickly,” Penny called out to a young man walking by the oak trees that flank the building.

“No, that’s alright,” the young man said as he continued on.

Adhesive bandages are lined up to be placed on arms after students receive coronavirus vaccines during a clinic at the College of Charleston on Monday, April 26, 2021. Grace Beahm Alford/Staff

Students who did get a shot lamented what they had missed out on over the past year: social events, study abroad experiences and in-person classes.

“Online school sucks,” said Jordana Gruber, a Jewish studies and psychology major.

“It’s been so sad,” the 21-year-old said of her senior year. “It doesn’t feel real.”

It was hard to escape mentions of the pandemic on the college’s grounds. Signs with public health advice were positioned along walkways and near buildings that date back to the 1800s. One sign, next to a campus entrance along Calhoun Street, said in large letters: “Face Covering Required.”

Mary Margaret Deering, 22, and Claire Pyne, 21, came together to the student health center, which is located a little over 100 feet from that sign. Both are juniors and special education majors.

They were eager for their senior years to be closer to what it was like before the pandemic. Pyne said she wants to get classroom teaching experience. Deering hoped their graduation next year would be closer to normal.

Friends Claire Pyne, 21, and Mary Margaret Deering, 22, register to receive their first coronavirus vaccine dose during a clinic at the College of Charleston on Monday, April 26, 2021. Grace Beahm Alford/Staff

While Corry, Pyne and Deering all received Moderna vaccines, students who arrived later in the day had a choice.

Days earlier, federal health officials had lifted a nearly two-week pause on the use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine over concerns of rare but severe blood clots developed by some recipients. Penny and other health staff at the center had to prepare before putting it to use.

So what would it be: Johnson & Johnson or Moderna?

Campus nurse Paula Grather encourages junior Mary Margaret Deering to relax her arm muscles before giving her a coronavirus vaccine dose at a clinic at the College of Charleston on Monday, April 26, 2021. Grace Beahm Alford/Staff

Timothy St. Pierre, a graduate student in public history, was among the first to face that question.

St. Pierre, 23, showed up expecting to receive a Moderna vaccine, but the one-shot Johnson & Johnson dose was too convenient to pass up.

“For me it felt like a straightforward decision,” St. Pierre said.

A handful of other students followed suit. But by then, St. Pierre was gone, the shot of protection already coursing through his body.

This content was originally published here.

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