When Ben Allaire walked into Patrick Gym on Sunday afternoon, he was happy. “It feels so good to be getting the vaccine,” said the freshman from Westminster, VT, patting his shoulder. “I feel safer.” He was one of 605 people who received the single-dose Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine in UVM’s first on-campus vaccination clinic, a collaboration between the university, the Vermont Department of Health, and Walgreen’s pharmacy.
With exams, graduation, and summer approaching, “we want to be sure as many students as possible have an opportunity to receive the vaccine,” said John Marcus '84, UVM’s emergency manager who helped organize the clinic. “The students have stepped up and this is going great.”
For history major Ben Allaire (above), his own vaccine was illuminated by a longer view. “Looking back at things makes you realize how beautiful it is that we’re able to treat this virus,” he said, standing in the midst of a half-dozen pharmacists and technicians, each at tables in the middle the gym, each table supplied with Band-Aids and a neat row of syringes. “We haven’t had anything like this in over 100 years. During the Spanish Flu, I bet they wished they could have a vaccine like we have now.” Then he headed to sit for a few minutes in a folding chair facing the basketball backboard. “I have ambition for the future,” he said. “I’m happy to go into the future stronger.”
The clinic was open to UVM students, staff and faculty—as well as community members. Here, truck mechanic Ben Kelley came to get a vaccine because, “my wife’s got cancer,” he said. “I’m sucking it up and doing this. Doing this for my kids”—who range from six to one-and-a-half. “I work on cars and big trucks. I’m around people all the time,” Kelley says. “I’m not a fan of this but I’ve got four kids at home.”
Asked about her vaccine shot, Aiyanna Hightower '22 said: “It was painless.” The English major from Philadelphia wanted to “do the right thing and keep safe too,” she said. “I’m being responsible for my health and the health of others.” She was also willing to field questions as she went through the clinic: checking in, getting her temperature taken, signing paperwork, and receiving her shot. “It’s been a hard year; hard to keep up with my academics. It’s been a year of navigating the changes,” Hightower said, as she rested for the recommended 15 minutes in a quiet sea of fellow students. Poetry has been a kind of life-raft for her. She’s been taking a class with UVM lecturer and poet Stephen Cramer and reading his anthology, Turn It Up! Music in Poetry from Jazz to Hip-Hop. Hightower would like to be a professor too someday and teach fiction and poetry. Getting a vaccine has been, for her, part of “getting back a sense of the future,” she said, “taking back some control of what’s next.”
On the other end of the syringe, working in Patrick Gym was a homecoming for Ryan Quinn (above, at right). A UVM grad in biochemistry and pharmacology from the Class of 2016, Quinn’s just a few days from finishing his medical training. “I’ll be a licensed pharmacist next Saturday,” he explained, as he waved over his next patient to take a seat. A Walgreen’s employee, he’s been driving from town to town since January, “doing vaccine clinics all over Vermont,” he said. He enjoys helping people manage “differing levels of anxiety,” he said. “There are all kinds of emotions, but almost everybody is genuinely happy about getting protected.” For Quinn, working through the pandemic has provided a powerful clarity: “Giving vaccines has been rewarding and, definitely, career-affirming,” he said. “This work gives you the affirmative: yeah, I’m doing the right thing.”