UT students describe being vaccinated in a COVID-19 world

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Photo Credit: Destiny Alexander | Daily Texan Staff

It had been over four months since Olivia Espinosa saw her immunocompromised friend. After each receiving two doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, they reunited in an embrace.  

“I didn’t feel scared or guilty seeing her,” nursing junior Espinosa said. “And more importantly, she felt safe around me. I realized then and there I could finally interact with my friends and family without putting them at risk.”

Espinosa is one of the 9,641 people who have been fully vaccinated in Travis county. According to the New York Times, experts aren’t sure if vaccinated people can still contribute to the spread of COVID-19. 

In Texas, two groups of people are currently eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. Phase 1A includes frontline workers and volunteers while Phase 1B includes those who are 65 and older as well as residents with chronic medical conditions that put them at increased risk who are 16 years or older.

Last semester, Espinosa said she felt apprehensive about working in different hospital sectors. Now, she said she feels reassured knowing it’s less likely she will contract the virus, especially since she’s working at Ascension Seton Medical Center and Rock Springs Hospital this semester. 

Chemical engineering sophomore Nathan Hardham received the first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine on Jan. 4 and is scheduled to receive his second dose Jan. 22. Hardham has been a volunteer at the Health Transformation Building at Dell Medical School since September, assisting in screening and symptom monitoring. 

As his responsibilities and contact with patients increases, he said he is relieved to be vaccinated. 

“The constant possibility of contracting COVID-19, which I know everyone has experienced, was a huge weight on my shoulders,” Hardam said. “It’s just nice knowing I can help others while protecting myself and those close to me.”

Hardham said after he received the first dose, he started to feel more comfortable doing more ordinary activities in public. He said he will continue to wear a mask and socially distance until most of the population has been vaccinated because he may still be able to spread COVID-19.  

“I felt like I could take more risks, like go to the gym more frequently and eat indoors at restaurants again, but I still won’t feel completely safe until I receive the second dose,” Hardham said. 

Jennifer Vaske, a nursing senior, has received both doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. Like Hardham, she said she still abides by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.

“It’s a weird feeling, though, knowing technically I have this immunity, but I don’t feel like I do,” Vaske said. “I look around, and it’s a sea of masks. We’re still very much in a COVID world.” 

As one of the first people to receive the vaccine, Vaske said she felt like a guinea pig.

“My roommates constantly were asking, ‘How are you feeling? Is everything okay?’ And every day at work, like 15 people would swarm me as I walked in asking about my symptoms,” Vaske said. “Everyone is so curious to know what it’s like.”

Vaske and Espinosa, who are friends and classmates, compared their symptoms and experiences throughout the vaccination process. A common symptom after the first dose is arm soreness. After the second dose, it’s normal to experience symptoms such as fever or chills, according to the CDC.  

“Literally any weird thing (I felt), I would go straight to (Espinosa),” Vaske said. “After the first dose, my arm was so sore I couldn’t sleep, so I called her and was like, ‘Your arm is sore right?’ and she would always reassure me. Even when we had different symptoms and reactions, it was just nice knowing we were both going through it at the same time.” 

Vaske, Espinosa and Hardham each said they hope everyone has the opportunity to receive the vaccine as soon as possible. 

“I felt like this whole past year, there was no light at the end of the tunnel, but finally with the vaccine there is hope,” Vaske said. “We’re still very much in a waiting game, but we got through 2020 together, we can make it a little further. We’re almost there.”