The state of Illinois entered COVID-19 vaccination Phase 2 on Monday April 12, opening up eligibility for all residents aged 16 and over, per the state’s vaccination plan. For those eligible, vaccines are available at a variety of clinics and local pharmacies, including CVS, Walgreens, the DuPage County Fairgrounds and Jewel Osco.
According to a survey conducted by the Record on March 19, most students intend to get vaccinated when it’s available. However, 16% of the 670 student respondents reported that they don’t plan to get the vaccine at all and 23% reported they were still undecided. At least 30 students, 5% of survey respondents, have already been vaccinated. At the time of the survey, DuPage County, like the state of Illinois, was in Phase 1b+, meaning only residents 65+, individuals with underlying medical conditions, and frontline essential workers were eligible to be vaccinated.
Daria Witte, a sophomore political science major, got her vaccine shot on March 11, a year to the day after Wheaton announced it would send students home to study remotely at the outset of the pandemic.
“It hit me like a ton of bricks the next day,” Witte said, referring to the emotional impact of finally getting her shot. For her, it was a surreal moment of realization that an end to the pandemic might be in sight.
After studying on-campus fall semester this year, she was unsure whether Wheaton students would continue to follow restrictions and keep campus COVID cases low. And as virus infections climbed to a record high in the early months of 2021, she decided to study remotely in Wheaton, staying with a family from her church because her parents are living abroad. She continued her summer and fall job as a kennel technician at an animal hospital in Hanover Park and was consequently qualified as an essential worker during Phase 1B of vaccine distribution, which provided eligibility to those whose jobs require higher levels of contact.
“There is only one way out of this and it is together as a community that has immunity either through vaccination or through vaccination plus antibodies from actually having COVID,” Witte said.
Junior English and communication major Emma Chrusciel also said her sense of responsibility to the community and concern for her grandparents, one of whom is immunocompromised, motivated her to get vaccinated early. Chrusciel’s grandparents live about an hour away from Wheaton, and her contact with them has been limited to local parks on warm days.
“I want to contribute to a healthy environment for them and for so many other people that I might not even know, to just be safe and not have to be fearful going out,” Chrusciel said.
Because her father was very proactive in keeping track of the vaccine rollout, Chrusciel found out that she would qualify for the vaccine because of a vision disorder. The disorder doesn’t affect her risk of severe COVID infection, but she said it was a welcome, if bizarre, excuse to get vaccinated. She said it was fairly easy for her to find an appointment at a nearby Walgreens and get her vaccine, and she feels that the rollout is going well.
“My impression has mainly been positive because the people I’ve been in contact with have been able to get it relatively easily and quickly if they wanted,” Chrusciel said. Both she and Witte report fairly little trouble signing up for an appointment, but for others it has been more of a struggle.
Kari Swanson, a junior music elective studies major, has been trying to get the vaccine for weeks, knowing that her Type 1 diabetes puts her at higher risk for severe COVID-19 infection. After driving an hour and a half to Peoria, Ill. for a Walgreens appointment, she was turned away. The pharmacy staff said that because she had out-of-state insurance from her home state of Iowa, they couldn’t give her the vaccine. According to the CDC vaccination guidelines, no one should be turned down for the vaccine because of insurance reasons.
“It shows us the brokenness of our health care and the systems surrounding that,” Swanson said, lamenting that for some at-risk populations, issues with health insurance can still block access to a COVID-19 vaccine.
Emily Stanton, a senior vocal performance major, also wanted to get the vaccine due to type 1 diabetes. She was monitoring the situation in Illinois and knew that Jewel Osco and Walgreens are offering vaccines. According to Stanton, it was difficult to find an available appointment because available slots were taken in seconds. Eventually, she happened to log onto the Jewel Osco website at the right time and was able to sign up online for an appointment at a nearby Jewel Osco pharmacy in the beginning of March.
“It was just hard to find an opening because appointments would be taken within seconds,” Stanton said. “People are trying to pounce on the first chance they can.”
The rush to snag a vaccination appointment is frustrating but also somewhat encouraging, Witte pointed out. For her, it’s a sign that a new and better normal is on the horizon. Witte looks forward to being able to travel with her sister, who got married this summer, to visit their older sister. Chrusciel anticipates being able to visit normally with her grandparents again.
Not everyone on campus is eager to get the vaccine. Senior psychology major Sarah Hamm said that while people who are at risk should feel free to get the vaccine, she does not intend to get the vaccine because neither her nor her close contacts are high risk individuals. She also feels unsure about the safety of the vaccine.
“If it has any long term effects we wouldn’t know… it freaks me out that it’s been made so recently,” Hamm said.
On campus, COVID-19 cases have peaked in the last month. Since August, there have been 134 positive cases on campus. On March 30th there were 30 positive cases in on-campus and off-campus isolation. There were 55 students in quarantine at that same time.
“We’re not out of the woods, thinking we might be able to have some semblance of normal is hopeful,” Witte said.