Hundreds of students rush to get vaccinated after Rice receives last-minute vaccine doses
Jessica Sheldon, a Duncan College senior, receives her first dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine. Katherine Hui/Thresher.
Rice students, staff and faculty dashed to the East Gym amidst the ongoing winter storm to claim one of the hundreds of Moderna vaccines administered on campus Monday afternoon. Harris County Public Health gave the vaccines — which would have otherwise gone to waste due to a power outage at their building — to Rice and other institutions that were already equipped to administer the vaccines. 810 vaccines were distributed to Rice’s campus, according to Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo.
“[Harris County Public Health] had power outages and had vaccine supplies that had to get into people’s arms by mid-afternoon or they would go bad,” Kevin Kirby, vice president for administration, wrote in an email to the Rice community on Monday afternoon. “They wanted to know if we could inoculate 800 people by using our own personnel who are authorized to vaccinate and whether we wanted the doses. We said yes. Within an hour we set up the vaccination site in the East Gym of Tudor Fieldhouse and staffed it with personnel.”
College magisters were emailed about vaccine availability at 11:06 a.m., and magisters then forwarded the message to students. The vaccines were available at East Gym starting at 11:15 a.m., and hundreds of people were already in line by 11:40 a.m. By 12:30 p.m., students were advised to stop heading to the East Gym for a vaccine dose, because there were more people in line than doses remaining, according to Director of News and Media Relations Doug Miller.
Rice Emergency Medical Services member Christina Oh said that she was asked to help with vaccine distribution at 11:11 a.m., soon after students were notified that the vaccine would be available. Oh said she was encouraged by the response to the news that the vaccines were available.
“It was really gratifying to be of some help, especially when help was needed in such a short time,” Oh, a Will Rice College senior, said. “The moment the news was out, I watched many students come running to the East Gym in the freezing icy cold. Seeing the line wrap all the way back to Wiess [College] made me really happy that everyone was trying to do their part during the pandemic. I’m honored that I was able to help in a small way.”
REMS member Manuj Shah said that REMS Captain Sam Reddick notified him and other Duty Crew REMS members who were on campus and willing to volunteer about the opportunity to administer vaccines.
“The event essentially occurred on a moment’s notice, as our EMS director was only informed around 10 a.m. this morning that we had vaccines coming to campus,” Shah, a Will Rice College senior, said. “It was amazing to see so many volunteers, students and healthcare workers pour into the vaccination site within the hour.”
Martel College junior Flora Naylor said she got her vaccine at around 2:50 p.m. In total, Naylor said she waited over three hours to get the vaccine.
“We were still waiting in line in the gym when [Rice University Police Department] told people to leave the gym,” Naylor said. “At first they told us there were only 175 vaccines left and counted off that number of people, telling those who fell below the cut-off to leave. Then, they said there were only 30 vaccines left and advised us to leave because we were more than 30 people away from the front of the line. At that point we had been waiting for over two and a half hours, so we wanted to hear confirmation that they were completely out of vaccines before we left.”
Naylor said that she was thankful to receive the vaccine and appreciates that Rice pulled off a remarkable logistical feat, although she said there were hiccups in the distribution and the first-come, first-serve basis advantaged certain students over others. For example, students at Hanszen College did not get an email from their magisters about the vaccines until 12:20 p.m., whereas other colleges were informed of the vaccine between 11 and 11:15 a.m. The Hanszen magisters later apologized for this delay.
“Part of me feels guilty for getting the vaccine,” Naylor said. “I am the first person in my immediate family to get it and I do not fall into any vaccination priority groups. It's frustrating that my mum, who is a public school teacher actively going into the classroom, still hasn't been able to get her vaccine.”
McMurtry College senior Ryan Udell said that he was one of the last ones to receive the vaccine at approximately 2:50 p.m. Udell said he arrived at East Gym at 11:30 a.m. after running to campus.
“We were told multiple times to leave and we were not going to get the vaccine but I stayed anyway just in case. It turned out in my favor to stay,” Udell said.
Udell said that he feels relieved to finally be vaccinated.
“Knowing that I will be able to finally hug my grandparents after over a year and a half will be lovely,” Udell said. “The line forming so quickly shows that so many people are eager for the vaccine to help things get better and to feel safer.”
Duncan College freshman Mary-Gwen Milburn said she got the vaccine at East Gym at 3:05 p.m., although she said the line could have easily stretched to Houston Methodist from there.
“It took about four hours for me to make my way through the line. One of the police officers kept telling us that we probably wouldn’t get the vaccine and that we might not want to wait in line through the cold, but I'm glad I stuck through with it,” Milburn said. “The hot water that the Wiess students gave me was the only thing that made the weather bearable.”
While some students waited in line at East Gym for a vaccine, others went to nearby Houston Methodist Hospital, which received 1,000 vaccines from Harris County Public Health due to the power outage, according to Hidalgo.
“Today’s vaccinations were unique. The city gave us 1,000 doses that were going to expire. That’s why it was a cattle call of sorts. This was separate from the usual,” Stefanie Asin, public relations director for Houston Methodist, said.
Kirby said that Rice still has no update from the state of Texas about when they will receive their requested allotment of vaccines. Kirby said that Rice will work with Harris County to schedule second dose vaccinations for people who got vaccinated on Monday, whether they were vaccinated at East Gym or at Houston Methodist.
“All of that information is going back to Harris County. They will facilitate the interaction. We don’t know exactly how people will be contacted, but it should be through Harris County Public Health,” Kirby said.
The vaccines distributed on campus on Monday were designated for people already on Rice campus due to the risks that travel to campus presented. When Rice gets its requested allotment of vaccines from the state, it will likely serve as a vaccination hub for the city.
“What will likely happen is that Rice will serve as a vaccination hub for the city in partnership with one of the providers in the medical center. And so that provider would serve both the City of Houston and our own community,” Kirby said.
Not everyone who went to East Gym was able to get a vaccine. Gabriella Feuillet, a Sid Richardson College senior, said that she was one of the first people in line to leave without a vaccine.
“The officer counted in the gym 175 people and said those were the last 175 vaccines available. I was No. 176,” Feuillet said. “We left immediately, but my friend told me that other people were turned away after us.”
Feuillet said there were around 200 people in line behind her, and that she waited in line from 11:30 a.m. to 2:10 p.m., but getting hot drinks from students handing them out to people in line provided some relief from the weather.
“Everyone around me was so relieved to take some. It was so kind of them and it definitely helped keep my hands warm,” Feuillet said.
Stanley Tsou, a Will Rice College junior, said that when he arrived at East Gym around 11:30 a.m., he was surprised by how long the line was.
“Not only was I hesitant that I would not be able to make the ‘cut-off,’ but I was more worried that I might not be able to withstand the cold long enough before I would have received the vaccine.”
Tsou went to get vaccinated at Houston Methodist after university ambassador Y. Ping Sun started directing students to the second-floor outpatient unit. He said he eventually received the vaccine at 12:40 p.m., after about one hour of waiting.
“I was surprised by how efficient the distribution process went. The line, though seemingly long, moved very quickly, but at the same time I did not feel rushed by the healthcare staff, who still took the time to greet me and asked me if I had any previous allergic reactions to vaccines,” Tsou said.
Jim Zhang, a Will Rice College junior, said that when he arrived at East Gym, soon after the vaccine announcement had been sent to students, people were being redirected to the hospital. Zhang was vaccinated at Houston Methodist.
“They set up vaccinations in one of the waiting lobbies and there was just a whole flurry of people –– some in scrubs, others in jackets [and] everyday wear,” Zhang said.
Zhang said he felt a little tired and his arm was sore after getting the vaccine, but he is appreciative and grateful that Harris County Public Health decided to provide some vaccines to Rice.
“It was all pretty surreal and an unexpected source of hope, I guess,” Zhang said. “I was just talking to some friends about how this part of the pandemic feels especially long because the solutions are out there and in-sight. But getting started on the vaccine a little early definitely combats that fatigue –– just providing a sense of progress and affirming this won't be forever.”
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