Vaccine offers hope, but caution still necessary

Registered nurses Libby Nelson and Kelly Frizzell were among the first people on campus to receive the COVID-19 vaccine in December. After months of working on the front lines at Thielen Student Health Center, there was no doubt for either when it was their turn to roll up a sleeve and receive the shot.

"I was not hesitant about getting the vaccine at all," Nelson said.

Nelson and Frizzell received their first dose on Dec. 18 and their second three weeks later.  Nelson said her lone side effect was a sore arm she compared to what some people experience after a tetanus shot.

"After my first shot, I noticed a little burning in my arm that was very vague the next day," Frizzell said. "After my second shot, I was just a little tired and generally achy, but nothing unlike what you would expect from an influenza vaccine."

Receiving the vaccine and helping prepare for its wider distribution has provided both nurses with a greater sense of hope.

Frizzell recommends anyone with specific questions or concerns about the vaccine contact the Thielen center or their health care provider, not rely solely on the internet.

The vaccine

COVID-19 public health coordinator Kristen Obbink said the vaccine is safe and effective.

"The vaccine process was accelerated, but still it has demonstrated to be safe with very few side effects," she said. "Ultimately, what is at risk is getting COVID-19, and there are just so many uncertainties with that. Getting the vaccine is safe, and we would highly recommend that everyone do so when they are able."

Dr. Dan Fulton, McFarland Clinic infectious disease specialist, gave a presentation on the COVID-19 vaccine in December. Fulton will be part of Friday's town hall (2-3 p.m.) to discuss the vaccine. 

"I found it to be very reassuring and answered a lot of the common questions," Frizzell said. "Any fears we may have had as health care professionals, after watching his presentation I had next to no doubt or worries about getting it."

There is no risk of contracting COVID-19 from the vaccine.

"There is no COVID in the vaccine," Obbink said. "It helps your body recognize a COVID-like virus, and the vaccine helps your body respond like it has seen it before. You have a stronger, quicker immune response that can prevent you from getting sick."

Obbink said ISU's public health team is collaborating closely with Story County Public Health and the Iowa Department of Public Health on how the state's phased vaccine plan will be implemented on campus. 

Remain vigilant

The development and rollout of a COVID-19 vaccine is a significant step, but it is not a cure-all to return life back to normal overnight.

"It will be several months before this vaccine is available to the general public, and we have a long way to go before there is enough of the general public that has been vaccinated to achieve herd immunity," Obbink said.

A Jan. 11 memo from Obbink and associate vice president for student health and wellness Erin Baldwin outlined ISU spring semester COVID-19 testing, including testing for residence hall students, sorority and fraternity members and asymptomatic surveillance testing.

Continuing to follow Cyclones Care behaviors is key to having a successful spring semester on the heels of completing the fall, Obbink said. Practicing good habits of wearing a face covering, frequently washing hands, physically distancing and staying home when sick are more important than ever.

The vaccine does not completely eliminate risk. Both the Pfizer-BioNTech and Modera vaccines require two doses, so peak immunity occurs about 10 days following the second dose, Obbink said.

"This time of year is cold and flu season anyway. We have a lot of respiratory illnesses that are going around that are not COVID-related," she said.