Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced March 12 that vaccine eligibility in Michigan will expand to those ages 16 and older beginning on April 5, shortly after President Joe Biden announced on March 11 that all U.S. adults will be eligible for a vaccine starting May 1.
Many University of Michigan students, however, have been able to get vaccinated earlier, because some were eligible to receive the shot, some clinics offered spare doses and since many slipped through eligibility requirements.
Risk of severe illness, hospitalization and death from COVID-19 increases with age, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Protecting those at the highest risk is a top priority, according to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services vaccine prioritization guidance. As of April 2, according to the Washtenaw County Health Department website, 80.2% of residents ages 65 and older in the county have received at least one dose of vaccine.
Before Monday, the only people who were not eligible to receive a vaccine were those under the age of 49 who are not essential/frontline workers, do not have underlying medical conditions or disabilities or are not caregiver family members or guardians to someone who has medical conditions or disabilities.
Yet, some U-M students found available doses before April 5 eligibility, similar to situations reported at other college campuses, such as Purdue University. According to the MDHHS vaccine prioritization guidance, those 50 and older with underlying health or medical conditions as well as caregivers 16 and older became eligible for the vaccine on March 8, while anyone 50 or older as well as those 16 to 49 with underlying health conditions became eligible March 22.
LSA junior Lauren Thom said she received the Pfizer vaccine on March 25 at Ford Field in Detroit. Thom works at Beyond Juicery and Eatery in Ann Arbor, where she prepares food for customers.
“My friend, he was out of town at the time, texted me and said, ‘Would you be able to get a vaccine on this day?’ and I was like ‘Yeah, of course,’” Thom said. “He wasn’t able to use his vaccine appointment because he was out of town.”
MDHHS vaccine prioritization guidelines state that by March 1, areas in Michigan that had vaccines available were able to begin vaccinating frontline essential workers in the food service and agricultural industries.
Thom, who had no reaction to being vaccinated, said getting vaccinated was the “safe and smart thing to do” so that everyone can return to a more normal lifestyle and be able to see friends and family again.
“My behavior hasn’t really changed yet just because I know I’m not fully vaccinated,” Thom said. “I’m not at the point where I have the best chance of not getting (COVID-19). So my behavior hasn’t changed, but I do feel a bit safer going into the grocery store or for those other essential outings.”
Thom said she felt that anyone who is presented with an opportunity to get vaccinated should get vaccinated.
Kinesiology junior Kaitlin Nemeh received her vaccination through a CVS Pharmacy located in downtown Detroit. Nemeh said her mother made the appointment for her.
“I honestly didn’t make the appointment myself,” Nemeh said. “I don’t know what survey questions were on there, but when I was at my appointment they just took me in, and there were a lot of other people my age around that were also getting vaccinated. I’m not really sure what the qualification was to get the appointment, but they never asked me my age, and they never asked any other health questions or anything related to that.”
Nemeh said she is not currently an essential worker, but over the summer she worked with younger kids in sports camps and teams. Nemeh said she received the first dose of the Pfizer vaccine on March 28 and is scheduled to receive her second dose on April 19. She said she decided to be vaccinated because she wanted to lower the chances that she, her friends and her family would catch COVID-19.
“It just felt like a normal flu shot, like a little sore for a couple hours but the next day it was gone,” Nemeh said. “I’m not 100% ready to go to big crowds or stuff like that. I’m definitely still cautious and wearing my mask everywhere. I’m still not really seeing big groups of friends or going out anywhere super crowded, but being in restaurants, I just feel more comfortable already.”
LSA freshman Ava Ben-David, who received the Pfizer vaccine on March 29 at Ford Field in Detroit, said she had no reaction to being vaccinated other than minor arm soreness. Ben-David said her second dose is scheduled for April 19. Ben-David said she was able to get vaccinated because a friend sent a registration link in a group chat.
“The link had been sent to me, and I just filled it out and there were no questions asking whether or not you had an underlying health condition or things of that nature,” Ben-David said. “So, I just assumed it was a mass vaccination initiative. I had talked to one of my housemate’s mom who’s a nurse, and I was like, ‘Is this, like, okay for me to do?’ and she said, ‘At this point in the pandemic, they just want to achieve herd immunity, so if you’re enthusiastic to get vaccinated they’re not gonna turn you away.’”
Ben-David, who said she already contracted COVID-19, said she decided to get vaccinated because it was “the right thing to do.” Ben-David said she feels more comfortable after her first dose but is continuing to wear masks and social distance.
When asked how she feels about going to get the COVID-19 vaccine earlier, Ben-David noted that the vaccine clinic didn’t check for eligibility.
“I think, in my case, it was just a mass vaccination initiative,” Ben-David said. “I don’t think what me and a bunch of other people — I know like dozens of people that went to Ford Field — I don’t think that is necessarily unethical. I think that explicitly lying about a health condition is unethical. They didn’t ask us about eligibility or anything. Also, right now it’s so close to April 5, I don’t really think it makes a difference.”
LSA junior Katherine Donnelly said she received the Pfizer vaccine at Ford Field in Detroit at the end of last month. Her next dose is scheduled for April 14. Donnelly said she qualified to be vaccinated because she has asthma as well as a weakened immune system, and her brother has Down syndrome.
Donnelly said she had no severe reaction to the vaccine and that the minimal side effects were similar to those of a flu shot.
“I believe in vaccinations generally; I believe in the science,” Donnelly said. “COVID, I think we’ve all seen, has taken a major toll on our communities. So, because I had the privilege to get vaccinated, I thought it was the right thing to do ethically. I looked into the science, as far as I can understand it, and I trust the doctors and scientists that worked hard on it.”
Since her vaccination, Donnelly said though she may feel more comfortable and have “more peace of mind,” she is still strictly adherent to social distancing guidelines.
LSA freshman Ashley Krauthamer said she received the Pfizer vaccine at Eastern Michigan University’s basketball arena on March 25. Krauthamer said she qualified because of an underlying health condition.
Krauthamer said she potentially had a mild reaction to the vaccine that included arm and back soreness and fatigue but conceded that it could have been caused by lack of sleep. Krauthamer, who said she tested positive for COVID-19 in October 2020, said she will feel much more comfortable getting back to normal once she has her second dose, which is scheduled for April 15.
“The way that you stop the spread is by getting vaccinated,” Krauthamer said. “Not only am I protecting myself, but I’m protecting my community and I’m someone that very much believes in science. I know the importance of getting vaccinated and I would recommend that everybody that can and wants to should.”
Daily Staff Reporter Jared Dougall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.