With the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines in full force, nearly half of Alachua County residents have received at least their first dose.
Experts at UF Health estimate between 70% and 80% of UF students have been vaccinated, UF spokesperson Steve Orlando said. According to UF Health, the estimate is based on informal polls at the testing site, conversations with staff and students and its own vaccination numbers. Orlando could not provide supporting data for the university’s estimation in time for publication.
At least 70% of the population needs to be immune to reach herd immunity, but other factors, such as variants and how people interact, can affect this level, according to John Hopkins School of Public Health.
Orlando said the university cannot mandate vaccinations for students or faculty. However, more than 100 U.S. colleges and universities have required students to get vaccinated against COVID-19 before returning to campus in Fall, with the number of institutions following suit expected to grow, according to CNN.
“We’re looking to be pretty much back to normal in terms of classroom capacity and things like that,” Orlando said looking ahead to Summer B and Fall.
Based on Alachua County’s population from 2019 census data, about 46% of Alachua County’s population has received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine — 124,376 people, according to the county’s dashboard.
Starting June 28, UF will return to full classroom and athletic capacities, which will extend to other in-person activities on campus as well, according to a policy update email Monday.
UF also announced masks will be optional for students, faculty and staff in its facilities and on its property, according to the email. CDC guidelines still recommend for individuals who aren’t fully vaccinated to keep wearing masks, according to the email update.
However, masks must still be worn within UF hospitals and other facilities receiving patients, according to the email.
Orlando said students should notify the student healthcare center if they are vaccinated outside of UF.
There are currently no plans to update the UF Health COVID-19 dashboard to include tracking for the number of students vaccinated, Orlando said.
UF Health and the Florida Department of Health in Alachua County addressed several questions about the vaccine during a press conference April 27 and vaccine information town hall April 29. Dr. Michael Lauzardo, UF Health’s director of Screen, Test & Protect, answered audience questions about vaccine development and distribution.
Lauzardo said the immunity people receive from the vaccine is better and longer lasting than the antibodies from natural infection based on laboratory tests and real world data.
Despite being vaccinated, individuals are more protected if they continue to wear their masks, Lauzardo said. High exposure while the virus is still being transmitted in the community can overcome the vaccination, he said.
“Remember that we’re going for herd immunity — not just to protect ourselves as individuals but to protect the community,” Lauzardo said.
While a number of people have made up their minds when it comes to the vaccine, Lauzardo said one goal of the webinar was to present information to “the middle 40” — a phrase he uses to describe those choosing to wait to get vaccinated.
Lauzardo said if people act now and get vaccinated, we can end this in June. If people take their time, it can also be dragged out for another year.
“We’re not there yet,” Lauzardo said. “We’re very very close, and that’s what the exciting time is now is that we’re at the point where we’re continuing to move forward.”
Paul Myers, administrator for the Florida Department of Health in Alachua County, said its focus is on vaccinating those in the 25 to 34 age group because they are spreading the virus the most in Alachua County.
“The vaccine is safe; it’s effective, and it was developed in a very transparent and robust manner,” Myers said. “It's the best tool that we have to get back to normal.”
Dr. Kathleen Ryan, UF Health’s associate division chief for pediatric infectious diseases, said the data for the 16 and older age group is strong, and their immune response is as good as adults’. Those receiving the Pfizer vaccine may experience the same side effects as adults — mainly a sore arm and some fatigue, she said.
The FDA approved the use of the Pfizer vaccine for children aged 12 to 15 May 10, according to its website.
Many participants’ questions concerned blood clots following the temporary pause of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which has been linked to at least 28 reported cases of blood clots. Lauzardo said for specific questions about their medical history, each individual should speak with their doctor.
Lauzardo said UF has primarily used the Moderna and Pfizer vaccine because there were availability issues with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. The Moderna and Pfizer vaccines have not been associated with any clots.
Information about booster shots, which are extra doses to strengthen the immune system, is still being gathered. As of now, experts believe the shot will work for at least a year and could last even longer, meaning booster shots may not be necessary, he said.
While understanding of COVID-19’s different variants evolves everyday, he said during the press conference the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines work against the existing variants.
“Concern of the variants is no reason to not get vaccinated,” he said. “In fact, it’s a reason to get vaccinated.”
Serious illness in vaccinated people is extremely rare, and death from COVID-19 has not been documented in somebody who has received a Pfizer or Moderna vaccination, Lauzardo said.
Some myths surrounding the vaccine include potential infertility, inability to concentrate, hospitalization of vaccinated individuals infected from COVID-19 and eventual death as a result of the vaccine, Lauzardo said.
None of these rumors have any scientific or medical foundation, according to the CDC.
Lauzardo said during the press conference people should ask themselves where their information about the vaccine is coming from.
“You wouldn’t go to your mechanic or your hairstylist if you needed your gallbladder taken out,” he said.
Orlando said UF is encouraging students, faculty and staff to get the widely available vaccine.
All of the vaccine sites in the county no longer require appointments and accept walk-ups.
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Juliana Ferrie is a second-year UF journalism student. She is excited to be working for The Alligator as the Santa Fe Beat reporter. In her free time, you can find her reading or listening to music.
Alexandra is a senior journalism major reporting on Science/Environment for The Alligator. Her work has appeared in The Gainesville Sun, and she filed public records requests for the Why Don't We Know investigative podcast. She has a passion for the environment.