College students across Maine are itching to get vaccinated as cases rise among young people, numerous University of Maine students said Wednesday.
Maine saw back-to-back days with 500-plus new cases on Monday and Tuesday, with young people continuing to make up a significant number of infections. UMaine’s campus has not been immune. It recently saw a spike in cases, though numbers have since fallen.
Several students said vaccine skepticism is not unheard of at the university but is far less common than among the general population. Many said reports of young people contracting the virus in Maine and nationwide had spurred them to try to get an appointment as soon as possible.
Megan Sinclair, 20, a wildlife ecology senior who will get her first dose of the vaccine on Thursday, said she was always planning on getting vaccinated. However, hearing that young Mainers made up many new cases motivated her to do it far more quickly.
“It’s bigger than all of us as individuals, for the good of keeping myself and my loved ones safe,” Sinclair said.
While almost half of Mainers 16 and older have received at least one dose of the vaccine, only one in five Mainers in their 20s have done so, according to Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention data. That number is even lower for those 16-19 — 10 percent.
The rise in on-campus cases was the result of numerous factors, including surging cases statewide and students’ interactions with others in residential housing, University of Maine System spokesperson Dan Demeritt said. The university system identifies many cases through weekly testing of students and staff, with the hope of isolating infected people before they can further spread the virus.
While faculty and staff who were close contacts of those who had COVID-19 were once required to quarantine for 10 days, whether vaccinated or not, the university system will end that requirement following discussions with state officials, Demeritt said Wednesday.
Students will be exempt from any quarantine requirement starting 14 days after their second Pfizer or Moderna shot or single Johnson & Johnson shot if they are not showing symptoms of COVID-19. University of Maine System Chancellor Dannel Malloy said he hopes the policy will encourage students to get vaccinated.
The 30,000-student university system is not currently requiring that students get the COVID-19 vaccine, though administrators are encouraging it through the system’s “This Is Our Shot, Maine” campaign.
Evan Desmond, an 18-year-old studying computer engineering at UMaine, had to isolate in Knox Hall for 10 days after contracting COVID-19 in February. While he didn’t lose his taste or smell, he had severe headaches and was bedridden for a few days. It hurt to even glance at his cell phone.
Desmond has now received his first shot and said other students generally wanted to as well.
“The general consensus is to go get vaccinated,” Desmond said.
Tiana Bucknor, a kinesiology and physical education student who is on UMaine’s women’s soccer team and a student ambassador in the “This Is Our Shot” campaign, hopes to alleviate doubts about the shot’s safety and encourage students to trust credible sources of vaccine information. She received her first Pfizer dose on April 3.
“I think it’s super important for students to hear from other students,” Bucknor said. “Students who have been through the vaccine and have had that experience.”
UMaine students acknowledged that the pandemic college experience has been far from traditional, with its remote classes and restrictions on social gatherings.
But many had positive things to say about how the university had handled the situation, including Sri Lekha Srimat Kilambi, a graduate student in electrical engineering who got her first dose on Saturday after trying to secure an opening in Northern Light Health’s vaccine portal for several days.
“It has been very nice that everybody is following protocol, and that your research is not completely coming to an end because of the whole COVID situation,” Kilambi said.
Many health officials fear that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s suspension of use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine due to fears of blood clots could lead to decreased vaccination rates.
But Tim McInnis, a graduate student studying global policy who got his first shot a few weeks ago, said the pause hasn’t led to any anti-vaccine language in discussions about vaccination on campus.
“I think there’s a little bit of concern just because there’s a bit of misunderstanding about what happened,” said McInnis, who said he is glad the FDA paused distribution to do more research. “Blood clots can sound scary.”
Correction: An earlier version of this report misstated vaccine eligibility for out-of-state residents attending schools in Maine.