When the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authorized the emergency use of COVID-19 vaccine booster shots, the move raised questions within the University of Miami community on the importance and availability of additional vaccinations and how big of a role the university should play in encouraging their use.
Dr. Michael Gaines, a biology professor in the College of Arts and Sciences and assistant provost of pre-health advising, mentoring and undergraduate research, says he got his third shot immediately upon eligibility in order to protect those around him and combat false narratives against vaccination.
“There’s all this stuff going on that doesn’t make biological sense and stuff that doesn’t fit with the science we know where people are worried that this is somehow dangerous and then you have these conspiracy theories which are crazy, totally crazy,” Gaines said.
The FDA expanded eligibility for COVID-19 booster shots to recipients of both the Pfizer and Moderna shots on Oct. 22. If recipients are 65-years old or older, 18-years old or older with underlying medical conditions, 18-years old or older living in long-term care or 18 years-old or older working in high-risk settings.
The FDA also announced that day that individuals 18 years or older who received the single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine are eligible for a booster shot two months after receiving their initial dose regardless of their risk of serious illness from COVID-19.
According to the FDA, individuals may mix and match different strains of the vaccine, meaning that they may choose any of the Pfizer-BioNtech, Moderna or Johnson and Johnson vaccines for their booster, regardless of what they were originally vaccinated with.
Unless they are within the narrow exception, most students don’t fall into the categories of those approved for booster shots now.
“I think people need to follow the government guidance,” said Erin Kobetz, UM’s Vice Provost for Research and Scholarship. “For students, part of the challenge, especially in college-age men, is that they’ve seen an increased risk of pericarditis, so there’s been some concern that that risk outweighs the benefit of the booster. It will be a personal decision that is best made with somebody’s primary care physician and parents.”
Baylee Brochu, a senior double-majoring in health sciences and psychology, recently received her booster shot and says that she got the additional dose not only to protect herself against COVID-19, but also the infants she works with in a lab off-campus.
“Because I am working with an at-risk population, I felt that it was my responsibility to get the booster shot when I was able to,” Brochu said.
While many UM students and faculty say they are grateful to have access to vaccination boosters, the use of booster shots has faced some criticism around the world, as many countries are still struggling to fully vaccinate their citizens.
Richard Chappell, a UM assistant professor of philosophy, says he believes that vaccine shortages in poorer countries could have been prevented by increased investment in global manufacturing from nations like the U.S.
“Ideally, wealthy countries should have invested more in global vaccine manufacturing capacity early on, to ensure sufficient global supply by this time,” Chappell said. “Unfortunately, that didn’t happen, which now creates a conflict between the demands of global justice and the obligations of a government to ensure the safety of its own citizens.”
Chappell says he believes, at the moment, vaccinating the unvaccinated worldwide is more more important than administering booster doses, but if cooperation fails, booster shots are the next best move.
“That gives the U.S. strong humanitarian reasons to share our vaccine supply with countries who need more for initial doses, even if that delayed our ability to roll out booster shots to the general population.” Chappell said.“Realistically though, if international donation isn’t going to happen, it’s obviously better to give booster shots here than to just have the extra vaccine doses rotting on the shelf.”
Students that wish to receive the COVID-19 vaccine may do so by finding the nearest location on vaccinefinder.org. After receiving their vaccine, students may upload their vaccine card on MyUHealthChart.
Students who submit proof of vaccination will have the opportunity to win gifts ranging from a $50 Lyft gift card to a $1000 cash prize as part of UM’s voluntary COVID-19 Vaccine Incentive Program. Students selected for the prizes will be notified via their school email.
For more information on the vaccine incentive program visit the university website.