‘The only way out is to vaccinate ourselves out’: Students hustle to get COVID-19 vaccines
After Governor Greg Abbott lifted the state-wide mask mandate for Texas on March 10, getting a COVID vaccine has become more important than ever to many Rice students. An impromptu vaccine drive was held at Rice’s East Gym during the winter freeze a few weeks back, but only around 800 doses were available. Students ran across the icy campus and stood in 20-degree weather for hours to try and receive a vaccine, but there just weren’t enough for everyone. Because many were unable to get the vaccine during that time, Rice students have recently been scheming for other ways to get their hands — or arms — on a dose.
Although the scientific community is still unsure whether vaccines reduce COVID-19 transmission, early research suggests at least some of them do, and students have been trying to get them to protect themselves, and potentially their community. The Thresher spoke to six students who have managed to secure a vaccine off-campus. The number of vaccinated students should grow starting next week, when all adults in Texas become eligible for a vaccine.
Locating a vaccine
Blaise Willis, a Duncan College junior living off campus this year, heard from a friend at Wiess College that there were available vaccines in Hardin County, population 54,635. After making an appointment, Willis jumped in the car with their roommate, skipped class for the day, and made the hour and a half trip to Beaumont, Texas. Because interest in the vaccine from locals has dropped off, Hardin County decided to open up their vaccine distribution to anyone who would take them.
“We made plans to just carpool to [Beaumont] and we could only do it during the morning, so we basically just made plans to skip class [to get vaccinated],” Willis said.
For Willis and their friends, the vaccination process itself was fairly quick in Beaumont. After signing up through an online link and bringing a signed form to the vaccination site, they were in and out within 30 minutes of arrival, they said. However, Willis said their timing for signing up for the vaccine must have been perfect because now the website they used to make their appointment is overrun with people trying to do the same.
Gabriella Feuillet and Andi Rubero live together off campus, and they recently got vaccinated at NRG Park in Houston. Both had waited almost three hours in line at East Gym but were past the cutoff for the number of vaccines available. Rubero, a McMurtry College junior, said after that experience they began trying to get the vaccine wherever they could. They got their information about the vaccine drive at NRG from an email sent to Lovett College that circulated through multiple group chats.
“We managed to call a couple of times and be on hold for a long while and both got appointments for last Friday at the drive-through vaccinate site in the parking lot of NRG,” Rubero said.
Word of mouth about vaccination sites also got around to An Luu, a McMurtry College junior. After hearing from friends about vaccines available in Orange County, TX, he loaded up his car with six other people and made the two-hour drive there. While they were at the vaccine site, Luu said he saw many other Rice students and parents doing the same.
“[I] heard from friends that they were going to go get the vaccine from [Orange County] … but one of the biggest problems we thought of was how we were all going to be COVID-safe,” Luu said. “So what we did was I decided to drive a bunch of other people, and I asked them to take COVID tests before and after so that if they were exposed during the car ride there and back we would know.”
Luu is glad that he and his friends were able to get the vaccine in this way, but he also wishes that Rice would help to inform students about options like this as well.
“[This] is all from word of mouth. This isn’t from Rice emails saying, ‘Oh you can schedule a Pfizer vaccine at NRG Stadium,’ this is just [students] talking about it,” he said. “I feel like Rice didn’t do an adequate job letting other students know what resources there were.”
Kevin Ngo, a senior at Brown living off campus, biked to campus and stood in line at East Gym for a few hours to get the vaccine but was cut off before making it to the front of the line. Like Luu, he heard about the Orange County vaccine site through college group chats and word of mouth. He also ended up making the two-hour drive.
“It was just group chats blowing up, just hearing from word of mouth, from friends saying, ‘Oh, go to this link and sign-up. Orange County in Texas is giving out vaccines and you don’t have to meet certain requirements,’” Ngo said. “So I just went and checked it out, signed up ... I found some friends to book an appointment with. It turned into a road trip with my roommate. It was about a one hour and 45 minute to two-hour drive one way, so not too bad if you have company.”
After reading a news article that said Orange County was opening vaccines to everyone, not just those in groups 1A and 1B, Harrison Lorenzen drove with friends there. He was not back on campus for the semester when vaccines were available at East Gym, so he had been looking in the area for places to be able to get vaccinated.
“I saw a news article that they were opening up availability to anyone outside of the [high-risk] categories because their appointments had been decreasing, so two of my friends and I were able to get appointments and we drove over there one day,” Lorenzen, a Will Rice College senior, said. “I had been trying to get in touch with pharmacies to see if they had any extra doses or anything, but none of them did.”
Reasons for vaccination
Because he contracted COVID over the summer, Luu knows what it is like to have and be scared of giving the virus to other people, and he said he doesn’t want himself or his friends and family to go through that again. Preliminary analyses of vaccines by researchers suggest that some of them are likely to lessen or completely block virus transmission, but that effect has not been confirmed.
After not getting the vaccine at East Gym, Willis said they felt uncertain about how soon they would actually be able to get a vaccine from Rice and thought they might as well get one wherever they could. Willis also said they have a job and would feel more comfortable coming into contact with people after being vaccinated.
“A vaccine in anyone’s arm is a good thing,” Willis said. “We’ve gotten to a point in this pandemic where the only way out is to vaccinate ourselves out. I think that every vaccine needs to get used.”
Living off campus also means frequent trips to the grocery store, which Willis said have felt less safe with the mask mandate being removed.
“I was of the opinion that as soon as a vaccine was available to me I was going to get it,” they said.
Lorenzen has been wanting to be able to get the vaccine for some time now, he said.
“I know at some point I was going to get it anyway, but I figured [it was] better to go ahead and get it as soon as I can,” he said.
Although neither of them is in a high-risk group for COVID, Feuillet and Rubero both thought getting the vaccine as soon as possible was important in helping to protect those that were. Especially with the mask mandate ending in Texas, Rubero said she was very enthusiastic for the opportunity to get a vaccine whenever she could. Because they live off campus with other people as well, both want to be able to keep their friends and housemates as safe as possible.
“Even though we aren’t technically in one of the [high risk] groups, it was great that we could get the vaccine because we’re in an age group that is one of the biggest spreaders [of COVID],” Feuillet said.
Like many others, Ngo wanted to be able to protect his friends and family more when he is able to visit them.
“I feel like it’s not only to protect myself but it’s also to [potentially] protect anyone I come into contact with,” Ngo said. “And this summer I plan to see my family again, and I know they’re very cautious ... it was worth the wait [at East Gym] even though I didn’t get it and it was worth the drive, and I did get it.”
While Luu says he might still be wearing a mask after many people are vaccinated, he’s ready to be able to hang out with friends indoors and not socially distanced once he is fully vaccinated. Although he said it’s hard for him to remember what exactly life was like before the pandemic, post-COVID life is something Luu is looking forward to.
“The thing I most think about is just hanging out indoors and doing things not socially distanced,” Luu said. “I actually like wearing a mask to be honest because it feels really comforting, and we can see from recent statistics that the flu has gone down a drastic amount because a lot of people are masking up.”
Ngo loves to play basketball, and is eager to get back to the close-contact sport that a pandemic does not lend itself to.
“I’ve played like once in the past year, and I still felt like I was taking kind of a risk. I did this last semester so I was with my family, and I know they were just a little iffy on it. [The people I played with] were people I trusted to be safe with the virus [but] I think being vaccinated I’ll feel a lot more free to go out and play basketball. It’s just a part of my life before the pandemic that I miss a lot,” Ngo said.
Being a station manager at KTRU, Rice’s radio station, Lorenzen said he is ready to be able to plan live concerts again.
“I’m the station manager of KTRU, and we’ve been trying to plan concerts but with all the restrictions it’s so hard to [have events]. It’s like, ‘Okay we’re allowed to have a max of 50 people and we have multiple bands, so we’re going to try to make it so people can come to different bands at different times’ but you just can’t get the same community feeling like we used to with concerts and events,” Lorenzen said.
Over the course of the pandemic, music has become an important part of Willis’ life, and they’re mostly ready to get back to curating playlists for parties in a post-vaccine campus, they said.
“I’ve really gotten so into music over the course of the pandemic. I never realized how [important] music and listening to and analyzing music had become to me until somewhat recently,” Willis said. “And now I can’t wait for the day that I can curate a playlist for a party because I’m very much a person who likes to be in charge of the music. Obviously, I know it’s not going to be one of the first things we get to do, but that’s something I’m so looking forward to.”
However, they’re trying not to get hopes up for a normal fall 2021 semester that might not happen.
“We’ve lost a year of our youth due to incompetence … And not to say incompetence by the Rice administration, I mean incompetence on almost every level of society,” Willis said. “[I’m] not getting my hopes up for fall semester. Part of me wanted to move back on campus. I catch myself daydreaming about living back at Duncan in a suite with friends and going down to the servery and getting a meal … but at this point, I really feel like those days are over.”
Rubero and Feuillet are both just ready for life to go back to normal after the pandemic. Feulliet said she is ready to be able to see her grandparents and not feel stressed about the visit, and Rubero is excited to interact safely with people on campus again. Feuillet is from San Antonio, TX, with family in Bogotá, Colombia, and Rubero is from San Juan, Puerto Rico.
“We’re both not from here, so [we look forward to traveling] home ... and just [knowing] that we’re not going to put any of our families at risk,” Rubero said. “We’re looking forward to moving past this chapter and are just really hopeful that the worst is behind us.”
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