As COVID-19 vaccination eligibility increases across the state, health officials emphasize the importance of vaccinations among young adults and continued compliance to safety measures to make the return to normal possible.
“Our goal is to get to 80% of all Wisconsin adults to be vaccinated, so young adults really play a critical role in helping us get to that 80%,” Kim Goffard, communicable disease supervisor for the Winnebago County Health Department, said.
Goffard said young adults typically don’t experience the adverse side effects of the COVID-19 infection and are not as likely to be hospitalized, but that shouldn’t discourage them from getting the COVID-19 vaccine.
UW Oshkosh Student Health Center director Karen Sanchez said while it is less likely young adults will suffer from more of the serious effects of COVID-19, there is still a chance they could develop serious illnesses.
“Young people do die, young people do get seriously ill — the numbers are not as high as 65 and over, but they still do,” she said.
UWO senior Marissa Hart said a reason she wanted to get the vaccine was because she has auto-immune diseases and she wanted to protect herself from the virus.
She knows that when she gets sick it can be a lot worse and be a lot harder to recover, so it’s important for her to not risk getting the virus.
“Even a simple cold could be dangerous,” she said. “I feel blessed that I was able to get the vaccine very early on.”
Sanchez noted that college students are working essential jobs where they have a greater chance of being exposed to the virus.
“Whether it’s health care, education or food service, you’re at a higher risk because you’re in those kinds of jobs and you know having a vaccine is going to protect you in the end,” she said.
Senior Andrew Haese said he jumped on the chance to receive his COVID-19 vaccine in early March to protect himself and people he works with.
“I decided to get the vaccine to protect myself, simple as that,” he said “I’m a very active person and I work nearly three jobs, two of which involve me interacting with other people.”
Goffard emphasized that young adults run the risk of spreading the virus in these essential jobs.
Hart works for Home Care Assistance and said she also got the COVID-19 vaccine because she wanted to keep her patients safe.
“I decided to get the Moderna vaccine because I want to keep my patients safe and help protect myself and the community,” she said.
“My patients are all high-risk,” she continued. “I prioritize their health and well-being every single day.”
Sanchez said variants of the coronavirus have a greater chance of spreading if enough people choose to not get vaccinated.
The Wisconsin Department of Health Services confirmed a third variant strain of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, in the state on March 25.
“When the virus is allowed to just keep spreading, that’s when you can get those variants, and then even the vaccines that we have might not be as effective if we get more of those variants because they have more opportunity to spread,” Sanchez said.
Failure to achieve high vaccination rates by fall could also disrupt the university’s plans for reopening campus for the fall 2021 semester.
UWO Chancellor Andrew Leavitt announced plans to resume in person classes, athletics and events to pre-pandemic times in the fall.
However, Sanchez said campus will look a lot like it did in fall 2020 if a large number of students don’t get vaccinated.
“The worst case scenario when we have a lot of unvaccinated [people] is that the virus spreads readily and there are variants,” she said. “We could be back to where we were in the fall.”
Goffard said she feels bad for college students who didn’t get to have a typical college experience over the last year due to COVID-19.
She said if Wisconsin reaches their goal of an 80% vaccination rate, then college students may have the opportunity of a normal college experience.
Another positive aspect of being fully vaccinated, according to Goffard, is that you won’t have to quarantine if you are exposed to the virus.
“I call it a get-out-of-quarantine-free card,” she said. “So if you are fully vaccinated, and you get exposed to somebody with the virus … you don’t have to quarantine.”
This opens up opportunities for more in-person classes and eliminates the need to work from home because you’re quarantined, Goffard said.
“The more you can stay out of quarantine in your life, the better,” she said.
Haese, who is graduating in May, said getting vaccinated will help with his job-hunting because he won’t have to worry about getting sick or having to quarantine.
“I need my body and mind completely healthy as I hunt for a job and start to establish my career,” he said.
Knowing that they can get together with their friends and family once they are vaccinated should motivate students to get the COVID-19 vaccine once it’s their turn, Sanchez said.
“I have adult children and we have one family member with a serious illness and we just haven’t been able to get together like we are used to,” she said. “We’re just waiting for all of us to be vaccinated, or just my immediate family of my children and their partners and their children so that we can all get together.”
Hart said she thinks it’s important to get the COVID-19 vaccine when you are eligible to help stop the pandemic and save lives.
“Wearing a mask and social distancing are effective, but not completely,” she said. “The vaccine will work to fight the virus if you are exposed.”
She said she knows the COVID-19 vaccines have undergone the most intensive safety monitoring in U.S. history and that they are safe.
“It is important to stay educated when the CDC updates information,” she said. “I trust science. Go out and get the vaccine when it’s your turn. Help save lives.”