UCI News

UCI Podcast: How UCI is helping students get vaccinated

Vaccination will play a major role in enabling an in-person college experience this fall, says UCI's David Souleles

April 27, 2021
UCI Podcast: How UCI is helping students get vaccinated
UCI COVID-19 Response Team Director David Souleles receives the COVID-19 vaccine. Courtesy of David Souleles

The COVID-19 vaccine is now available to everyone in California 16 years of age and older, but actually getting the shot is another matter. Navigating appointment systems and finding time to receive both doses can be challenging. That’s why UCI is assisting students, staff and faculty with scheduling vaccine appointments. Because vaccination is how UCI will be able to have a fall quarter that resembles the pre-pandemic college experience.

In this episode of the UCI Podcast, David Souleles, the director of UCI’s COVID-19 response team, discusses how vaccination benefits both the individual and the community at large, what the proposed vaccine mandate from the University of California Office of the President means, and how members of the UCI community can get help in getting the shot.

For more information, call UCI’s COVID-19 Response Team at 949-824-2300.

In this episode:

David Souleles, director of UCI’s COVID-19 Response Team

UCI Forward, a hub for COVID-19 information for the UCI campus community

How to get vaccinated, a UCI resource for scheduling vaccine appointments

MyTurn, a vaccine appointment scheduling website run by the state of California

Othena, a vaccine appointment scheduling website run by Orange County

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Transcript

AARON ORLOWSKI, HOST

Vaccines are our ticket past the pandemic, to a fall quarter at UCI that resembles the college experience of years past. In fact, the UC Office of the President has proposed requiring students, staff and faculty to get the COVID-19 vaccine to be on campus this fall.

How is UCI helping students schedule vaccine appointments? And why should we all roll up our sleeves and get the shot?

From the University of California, Irvine I’m Aaron Orlowski. And you’re listening to the UCI Podcast. Today, I’m speaking with David Souleles, the director of UCI’s COVID-19 Response Team.

David, thank you for joining me today on the UCI Podcast.

DAVID SOULELES

Thanks for having me. It’s great to be here.

ORLOWSKI

So what do we know so far about the proportion of the campus community that has received the COVID-19 vaccine?

SOULELES

That’s a really good question. We have been trying to begin to understand that. I think as most people know, COVID-19 vaccine is not yet required to be reported to the university. So if you’re a student or staff or faculty, you’re not required to tell the university what your vaccine status is. However, we have been calling students to determine whether they’ve been vaccinated and to help them get vaccine appointments if they need them. And what I can tell you from that conversation is really encouraging. About 70 percent of our students that we’ve talked to so far have indicated that they’ve had at least one dose, and that’s really good news. And another 20 percent either had an appointment scheduled or we assisted them in getting an appointment. So very encouraging, particularly since vaccines, didn’t generally become available to those who were 16 and older until about a week ago. So very encouraging to see that.

ORLOWSKI

So basically everybody’s doing it. And if you don’t you’ll experience some major FOMO.

SOULELES

Exactly. Exactly.

ORLOWSKI

All right. So if I’m a student or a staff member or faculty member and I haven’t gotten the vaccine yet, why should I?

SOULELES

COVID is still circulating. COVID is still out there, despite the fact that conditions here in California are getting better. The virus is still pretty widespread in many parts of the country. We’re seeing a number of states having actually an additional surge now, following the winter surge. And it’s likely to be circulating in our communities for a long time to come. So the vaccine really provides a good level of protection to help keep us from becoming infected. It’ll significantly reduce your risk of becoming infected. And if you do get COVID after being vaccinated, your symptoms are likely to be much more mild, and we also know that those who’ve been vaccinated if they do become infected are likely not going to need to be hospitalized, because the symptoms are much more mild.

You know, the other thing is it’s really about our community and protecting our community and protecting the people around us, the most vulnerable people around us. So even though you, as an individual, may not get particularly sick or you figure, hey, I can, you know, I can handle being sick for a few days, what’s the, what’s the big deal? Well, the risk is you might transmit it to others without even knowing it. And they could become seriously ill. They could die. COVID is a very serious disease for many people. So it really helps to protect our whole community, it helps to protect those who, you know, have not yet had the chance to be vaccinated or might not be able to be vaccinated for other kind of medical reasons. And so it’s really that community effort. And I think also for us in thinking about what our campus community looks like in the fall, I know we all want to get back to a much more traditional campus experience. Vaccine as our ticket. Having a high level of vaccinated individuals amongst our students, staff and faculty is really going to make the difference for what our experience is in the fall. So I am strongly encouraging everybody to get vaccinated as soon as they can.

ORLOWSKI

And so the UC Office of the President has actually recently proposed requiring that students, staff and faculty receive the vaccine to be on campus. Can you tell us a bit more about how that’ll work?

SOULELES

Yes, the University of California Office of the President did just make this announcement. A proposal has been made for a vaccine mandate for students, staff and faculty to be vaccinated for participating in on-campus activities and accessing campus facilities beginning in fall 2021. So the university is taking comment on that policy now and will likely be finalized after that comment period. But the thinking is that, again, we really want to get a high level of vaccination amongst our campus population so that we can really repopulate the campus, have in-person classes, have full residence halls and not have to worry as much about the risk of significant COVID outbreaks and significant numbers of cases in our campus community.

The proposal as currently written does provide for medical and religious exemption processes. And what will happen is students, staff and faculty will be required to upload their verification of their vaccine status to the university. For students, it’ll go through Student Health Services through the existing student health portal that we use for other vaccine mandates. And for staff and faculty, we are working on building out that system now, so we have it available when the policy goes into effect. And if somebody is going to elect the medical or religious exemption, there will be a process for that, both for students, and for staff and faculty, for submitting that. And the intent is that if you are either not vaccinated and you don’t have a medical or religious exemption, you would not be able to access campus property. So it really is an effort to assure that those who are accessing campus property on a regular basis — students, staff, and faculty — are fully vaccinated. It gives us the best shot at a more typical fall college experience.

ORLOWSKI

Well, and as people are trying to actually get their vaccine, the vaccine only recently became widely available for anyone 16 years and over — 16 years old and older — and getting an appointment can sometimes be challenging. But your team, as you mentioned earlier, which had been working on contact tracing earlier in the pandemic, has now pivoted to helping folks in the campus community get their vaccine appointments scheduled and actually get those shots. So can you tell us some more about what your team has been doing to help everyone actually get vaccinated?

SOULELES

Contact Tracing is now Contact Tracing and Vaccine Navigation Services. As you mentioned, we are thankfully seeing many fewer COVID cases amongst our students, staff and faculty than we were at the height of the winter surge, which is great news. And we still do have cases occurring. So contact tracing is still a very important tool that we use to help control the spread. And our contact tracers continue to do case investigations and close contact interviews, supporting isolation and quarantine. But really we have pivoted much of our energy and focus to really assisting our campus community in being able to find a vaccine appointment. Because as you said, it can get a little confusing out there. There’s a state system called myturn.ca.gov, which is a source for appointments. There’s a local system here in Orange County, California called Othena for accessing Orange County Healthcare Agency operated sites. A number of pharmacy chains have their own appointment systems, and it can get just a little bit confusing.

And while vaccine supply is getting better, it’s not kind of ubiquitous. It’s not out there. You can’t just walk into Walgreens or Rite-Aid or your local pharmacy and say, give me a vaccine. You still need an appointment. And supply can be hit and miss at different areas. So our vaccine navigators who are on our staff spend the day scouring the web, looking for available appointments and we can assist staff and faculty and students with actually securing an appointment. So while you’re on the phone with us, if appointments are available, we can actually get you registered and booked for an appointment. We’re also outreaching to students directly. So we’re not waiting for everybody to call us. We have begun that process, starting to make calls to all of our students who are currently residing on campus to, A, check in if they’ve gotten the vaccine and then, B, to also help them out.

You know, even before the University of California Office of the President announced the proposal for the vaccine mandate, we understood here at UCI that our hope for that typical fall college experience really hinged upon getting our population vaccinated. So we wanted to get a running start as soon as our students, in particular, became widely eligible for the vaccine. None of us really thought that, even as recently as a few months ago, that vaccine would be available to those 16 and older this soon. So we wanted to seize on that opportunity to get our students the opportunity to be vaccinated.

ORLOWSKI

Does it matter which vaccine I get or are they all functionally similar enough?

SOULELES

No, it does not matter which vaccine you get. The vaccines currently being given in the United States are safe and effective. And the best vaccine you can get is the one that’s available to you now. So I would encourage you not to wait for a particular vaccine, but to get the one that’s available to you now. It’s going to give you the most immediate and most rapid protection, rather than waiting down the line for a particular vaccine. Particularly with Moderna and Pfizer, which are currently being administered in California and in the United States, they both have very high efficacy levels and will provide good protection.

ORLOWSKI

That’s good to know. And so, but what if I’m nervous about some of the potential side effects that my friends or colleagues have said that they’ve gotten from the vaccine?

SOULELES

The side effects are a little bit more common with the COVID vaccine than they are, say, with the flu vaccine. And you may experience a sore arm. You may feel tired for a day or two. You may get flu-like symptoms. Or you might not. It really is different from person to person. I’ve talked to a number of people who had absolutely no symptoms. I’ve talked to other people who had more severe kind of flu-like symptoms. But the bottom line is that after a day or two, those symptoms subside and you are able to kind of get back to your normal daily activities. And it is a relatively small price to pay for creating that protection against COVID not only for yourself, but for our community.

ORLOWSKI

And if I’m especially nervous about being under the weather for an exam, I can just make sure to schedule it for the few days after that exam.

SOULELES

Exactly. That’s what we really — when we talk to people, one of the things we’re hearing when we’re talking to students and staff and faculty who are contacting us for vaccine navigation services, is that hesitancy about — you know, it’s midterms, I’ve got a big assignment due, I’ve a big project at work. So we kind of strategize with them about, well, let’s look at your schedule, let’s think about when you might have a down day the next day and try and get you an appointment that syncs up with that. So we get you past your midterm or past that big project at work. Or if you’ve got a day off coming up, we can try and time your vaccine appointment so that you’re not having to be at work or not having to be in class. So we really tried to accommodate that as best we can, because that’s a very real concern. We totally get that, totally understand that.

ORLOWSKI

Yeah. So, the end message is, you know, you can wait a little bit, but just get it as soon as it fits in your schedule well.

SOULELES

Exactly, exactly.

ORLOWSKI

You know, what if I’m looking at the vaccine and I just don’t really like getting poked by a needle and I’d rather take my chances. What would you say to someone who’s thinking that?

SOULELES

I get it. I get that people have questions. I get that people are nervous. And I would say a few things. One is do your research. Look at reputable sites. Look at local health departments’ sites. Look at your state health department site. Look at the CDC for good, valid, verifiable information about the vaccine. You know, knowledge is power. Understand the vaccines, understand the protection they provide, understand everything you can about it. Give us a call. We talk to people all day long at Contact Tracing and Vaccine Navigation Services, and are happy to talk you through those concerns, point you to some resources to help you better understand the vaccine. If you have specific questions about a medical condition you might have, and whether or not it’s safe for you to get the vaccine, talk to your healthcare provider, they can provide you a good amount of information and reassurance.

And again, while you may not get seriously ill and you’re willing to kind of take the chance, it doesn’t mean that you wouldn’t pass it on to somebody else who could get very seriously ill who could die. It could be a family member, a parent, or a grandparent or a good friend. And I don’t think any of us want to be that person, right? So this is really our opportunity to do our part, not only to protect our own health, but to help protect the health of those we care about the most. So first and foremost, give us a call. We’re at 949-824-2300. And we’re here Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. And happy to talk about any questions or concerns you may have and point you in the right direction for resources and referrals and get you hooked up with an appointment.

ORLOWSKI

David, thank you for joining me today on the UCI Podcast.

SOULELES

Happy to have been here. Thanks so much.