March 31: Screen, Test & Protect
From the director of Screen, Test & Protect:
Dear Campus Community,
April has always been my favorite month. The weather is unbeatable, another school year is close to being in the books, and, well, it’s when I mark my birthday. After passing so many “speed limit” birthdays, I am surprised how excited I still get over the prospect of chocolate birthday cake. But this April is even more special.
As you all no doubt know by now, on Monday, April 5, COVID-19 vaccinations in Florida will open to all individuals over age 16. This is important for a variety of reasons. The first is that so many students, faculty, staff and other members of our broader North Central Florida community have been very patiently waiting for their opportunity and are very excited about being vaccinated. UF Health’s collaboration with the Florida Department of Health in Alachua County and the support of Gator athletics will make this access easier.
The second reason? This is an important step to end the pandemic. How can that be true since younger people generally don’t get as sick? It is important to remember that almost three out of four cases are the result of infections spread by people in their 20s, 30s and 40s. The impact of most of the vaccinations done to date has focused on those who are most vulnerable — those who are 65 and older with risk factors — and that is a good thing. Hospitalizations and deaths are down, which is exactly what we want. But we have done little so far to stop what is predominantly fueling the pandemic itself. Evidence of this is the increase in cases noted in Florida and nationally.
Speaking in broad terms, we have vaccinated 70% of people responsible for 25% of the spread of the virus. To truly protect the most vulnerable and get back to normal, we have to make sure people have access to accurate information and access to the vaccine, and then allow them to make the best choice for themselves, their families and their community, which I hope is to get vaccinated. We have found that the overwhelming majority of people in our community, when presented with the facts about COVID-19 vaccination, choose to be vaccinated.
Questions, questions, questions
With the expansion of eligibility for vaccination starting next week, several questions have come up. Here are a few answers:
How do I schedule an appointment?
Go to ONE.UF to register, just as you currently do to schedule COVID-19 testing. Once your appointment is confirmed, show up at your appointment day and time, bring a photo ID and a mask, and remember to wear something that allows easy access to your upper arm. It’s as simple as that.
Can members of the community get vaccinated, too?
The whole community (over age 16) can access vaccines through our collaboration with the Florida Department of Health in Alachua County. To register for a vaccination appointment, community members must complete the county's registration form. Invitations will then be sent for upcoming available appointments.
Where are the vaccinations being given on campus?
At the Ben Hill Griffin Stadium Champion’s Club, across the street from the O’Connell Center’s Gate 1 on Gale Lemerand Drive.
I had my first dose at another site — can I get my second dose here at UF?
Yes — if your first dose was Pfizer! Even if you received your first dose of the Pfizer vaccine from another location, you can schedule an appointment for next week and receive your second dose at the stadium event. Also, several area retail pharmacy sites are accepting appointments for people who need to receive a second dose of either vaccine.
I am an international student — can I get vaccinated?
If you are living here as a student, you will be able to schedule a vaccine appointment. The Florida resident restriction was intended to discourage vaccine tourism, but international and out-of-state students will be able to make appointments and be vaccinated.
I am worried I will not be able to get my second dose. Should I still get vaccinated?
Over the month of April and into May, second doses will almost certainly be available in most, if not all, of your hometowns. The exception may be for some international students who are from countries where vaccine availability may be limited. We encourage all U.S. residents to take steps to at least get their first dose before they go home, as access to the second dose they need will very likely be available to them there.
I heard the side effects from the second dose are bad. I want to wait for the Johnson & Johnson one-dose vaccine.
The availability of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine will be limited over the next two months and some programs are limiting its use for populations that are at high risk for not returning for a second dose. We do not recommend one brand over another because at this point there are no clear benefits of one over the other. We usually recommend that people get whichever vaccine is first available to them. Lastly, the side effects of the second dose tend to be exaggerated. Yes, mild side effects can be more common with the second dose, but the vast majority of people do just fine with both doses.
Moderna clinical trial vaccine study
This week has been a big one in the battle against COVID-19 at UF, which was selected as a site for a clinical trial with the National Institutes of Health to study the Moderna vaccine in college students. UF will attempt to vaccinate more than 1,000 students as part of this landmark national study to determine whether young people who have received a COVID-19 vaccine can still spread the coronavirus. For more information, including study details, eligibility and contact information, visit the Prevent COVID U website.
Well, that’s it. A lot of good news and some challenges ahead. Remember, keep masking up. The rates of COVID-19 are going up steadily. We are near the finish line. If we handle the next month or two well, we can get back to normal in early summer.
As always, please visit the Screen, Test & Protect website for more information and don’t hesitate to reach out to us if we can be of any help at all.
Michael Lauzardo, MD, MSc
Director, UF Health Screen, Test & Protect
Deputy Director, Emerging Pathogens Institute
Associate Professor, Division of Infectious Diseases and Global Medicine
UF College of Medicine