UD hosts virtual town hall to discuss vaccine concerns

Concerns over the coronavirus vaccine raised by UD students and parents were addressed by a panel of experts Thursday evening. Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com 

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Zoë Hill 

News Editor

An expert panel of doctors addressed parent and student concerns Thursday evening surrounding the COVID-19 vaccine and the university’s summer vaccination goal. 

The panel consisted of Dr. Mary Buchwalder, the UD Student Health Center medical director, Dr. Steven Burdette, UD COVID-19 medical advisory panel chair, and Dr. Roberto Colon, Miami Valley Hospital associate chief medical officer. The virtual webinar event was moderated by UD associate vice president of audit, risk and compliance and chief risk officer Robin Oldfield. 

UD announced via email to students and parents on May 5 the university’s goal to vaccinate 70% of the student body this summer. The goal, which UD is calling the Build Immunity in Our Community challenge, hopes to reach this benchmark by July 1, according to the university’s announcement

“There is no magic number [for vaccinations] when it comes to this new virus,” Buchwalder said. “We are looking for 70% documentation.” 

The 70% goal is lower than some expert recommendations, but Buchwalder predicts that a portion of vaccinated students will neglect to report their record to the university, leading to a greater number actually being vaccinated. The university is optimistic that the campus community will meet its goal, Oldfield said. 

Last fall, all students were required to get their flu shot, but UD does not currently have plans to mandate the COVID-19 vaccine for students. It is highly recommended that all students get the shot in order to build community immunity. Oldfield said the current student vaccination level is at about 33%. 

For students who choose not to get the Covid-19 vaccine, the university plans to continue its ongoing surveillance testing and contact tracing protocols. 

Buchwalder, along with Burdette and Colon, also answered general questions about vaccinations and transmission of Covid-19. 

For people concerned about the emergency authorization of the vaccine, Burdette explained that  Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson conducted three phases of testing with thousands of participants and produced very similar results across all three vaccines. The speed of the testing can be attributed to the massive waves of willing participants for the trials that typically take months to years to secure, Burdette said. He also confirmed people who were previously infected with the virus can shed non-infectious particles several months after recovering. This can lead to fully vaccinated people testing positive for Covid-19 without actively having the virus. 

“The vaccine is proven safe, does not alter DNA and does not cause infertility,” Colon said as he reassured parents and students attending the town hall. He also explained that those who have antibodies from contracting the virus still need to get vaccinated because it protects against more variants and lasts longer than natural immunity. 

Another concern of the campus community is the use of aborted fetus cells in the manufacturing of the vaccine. All three of the approved vaccine companies have used fetal cell lines in testing or production, but Buchwalder explained that these cell lines are copies of fetus cells from decades-old abortions and no actual fetus cells are distributed through the vaccine. She assured that due to the ongoing health crisis and the remote connection to these abortions, getting vaccinated is morally justified. 

Beginning on June 1, the UD website will display the percentage of students who have documented their vaccination. Progress towards the campus immunization goal will help set guidelines for the upcoming fall semester and contribute to loosening regulations for students on campus, Oldfield said. These plans are expected to be communicated to parents and students in July.

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