Miller said JMU will play a key role in distributing the COVID-19 vaccine locally. 

On Jan. 10, senior nursing major Brittany Mills became one of the first JMU students to brave the COVID-19 vaccine.

Mills worked in a pediatric doctor’s office over winter break. She planned to receive the shot when she returned to school but was “thrilled” to learn that she could get the first dose of the Moderna vaccine through her employment at the office.

Soon after, Mills was in line for inoculation at her local hospital in Maryland.

“I was just excited for new hope,” Mills said. “I felt proud of health care workers and happy to be a part of making progress through this pandemic.”

This semester, Mills said she’ll feel more confident striding the halls of the labor and delivery floor of Rockingham Memorial Hospital knowing she’s kept her patients safe by receiving the vaccine.

At a town hall hosted last Thursday by Vice President of Student Affairs Tim Miller and Provost Heather Coltman, Miller said “JMU was chosen by the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) to host” vaccination events for the Central Shenandoah Health District (CSHD). That morning, the clinic vaccinated JMU health center and counseling center staff.

Miller said the VDH is in charge of regulating and distributing vaccines, but because of JMU’s “great relationship” with the organization, the university will play a key role in rolling out the vaccine locally.

“We are going to be a hub for vaccines,” Miller said. “We’ll be doing thousands of vaccines … each week on campus in support of VDH.”

Laura Wight, the population health community coordinator at the CSHD, said the health district has disseminated 2,710 vaccines through the VDH as of Tuesday — some administered at JMU’s clinic. That figure doesn’t take into account the injections that were performed at pharmacies and health centers, however.

“We’re seeing an unprecedented surge of cases, and we have a high burden of disease in this area,” Wight said. “The vaccine is a light at the end of the tunnel, but rolling it out is going to take time.”

Although the CSHD hasn’t completed Phase 1a vaccinations to healthcare personnel and long-term care facility residents, Phase 1b inoculations began Monday. People who are older than 65, frontline essential workers and people between the ages of 16 and 64 with certain conditions or disabilities are part of Phase 1b.

Miller said that JMU faculty falls into Phase 1c as other essential workers, but most JMU students won’t be vaccinated until Phase 2 — which Wight said she anticipates to begin this summer — unless they have a health condition that necessitates an earlier immunization.

“This is the million-dollar question: everyone wants to know when they can get the vaccine,” Miller said. “I can’t answer that yet.”

The Pew Research Center found in December that 60% of Americans intend to get a COVID-19 vaccine. The study cites that some citizens are concerned it’s not safe or effective, but Mills said the newness of the vaccine doesn’t worry her.

“I wasn’t nervous for long before I got it,” Mills said. “The benefits outweigh the cost so much that it wasn’t really a question that I would take it.”

Mills said the hospital monitored her after the shot for side effects, but she only felt a sore arm and lethargy. Hospital staff warned that the second dose is more likely to be accompanied by more salient side effects like joint pains and low-grade fevers.

According to the VDH’s website, individuals should get their second dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine 21 days after their initial dose and the Moderna booster 28 days after the first shot. Individuals are still not fully in the clear until a few weeks after the second dose.

For that reason, Wight said it’s more important than ever to practice social distancing and wear masks. 

“This is one of the most effective vaccines that we’ve ever seen,” Wight said. “It’s incredible, and it’s how we are going to get out of this pandemic.”