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Shooting their shots: Here’s how students are getting their COVID-19 vaccines

It was midnight when first-year Christina Yoh saw a text in a group chat. It was her friend telling everyone to make a vaccine appointment because she had just scheduled one. 

“I frantically logged onto my computer, created a Walgreens account and clicked the first appointment I saw because I didn’t want to miss my chance,” Yoh said.

Duke announced last week that students would be eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine starting April 1. However, the announcement noted that students might experience delays in scheduling appointments at Duke Health due to “uncertainties in the supply chain.” As a result, Duke encouraged students to explore vaccination options outside of the University. 

Now, many students have been receiving their COVID-19 vaccinations in a variety of ways. 

Some students simply waited at nearby Walgreens locations in hopes of receiving extra vaccines at the end of the day. 

“Two Saturdays ago, my friend and I decided to just go to the nearest Walgreens without an appointment,” first-year William King said. “I think they happened to have extra doses, so they gave me one. Honestly, I just got super lucky.”

Others received vaccines through Walgreens by making an appointment on the pharmacy’s website. In North Carolina, the first portion of Group 4 became eligible to receive the vaccine on March 17, including those who live in “certain congregate settings.” Students living in on-campus housing took advantage of this policy.

Students who made vaccination appointments online had several Walgreens locations to choose from. Yoh chose the Walgreens on North Lasalle Street, a 10 minute drive from East Campus.

She brought her passport and health insurance card, and at the counter, she received a form to fill out. The Walgreens employees called people one by one into a small room to get the jab, she said.

“I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to get the vaccine since I’m not from the U.S., but they really didn’t care,” said Yoh, who is from Singapore. “I never thought I’d get vaccinated this semester, let alone in the U.S.”

Lucky students like Yoh were able to reserve vaccination slots at Walgreens locations close to campus. Others went to great lengths to get the vaccine. Junior Sarabesh Natarajan was able to receive his first dose of the Pfizer vaccine as early as February by driving to a site in Cabarrus County, which is two hours away from Durham.

“In Durham County and Wake County—where my sister is right now for college—the demand for vaccines was just so high,” Natarajan said. “They were backed up in terms of the number of healthcare workers in Group 1 that had to get vaccinated.”

The site in Cabarrus County was a drive-through clinic. Natarajan said that all he had to do was roll down his windows to get the injection.

“I know some other friends who also drove two to three hours to random places just to get the vaccine,” said Natarajan, adding that he even drove a friend to one of these clinics.

Aside from Walgreens, some students employed by Duke were eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine through Duke Health.

Sophomore Maile Lehrer is a resident assistant in the Gilbert-Addoms dorm on East Campus. She was vaccinated on March 9 through Duke, and some of her friends have also gotten vaccines in various ways.

“I actually took one of my friends to get vaccinated—it was a very different experience,” Lehrer recalled. “She signed up on a waiting list, and they called her back. It was organized, but definitely not hospital-grade organized.”   

Evelyn Shi is a contributing reporter.

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