RICHMOND, Va. -- As most health districts in Central Virginia expand COVID-19 vaccinations to the general public, limited vaccine supply is causing a delay in vaccinating college students.
Sunday afternoon, dozens of VCU students were seen at Richmond's Monroe Park studying for end-of-the-semester exams, including Lauren Dietrich.
"I'm actually studying for a genetics test that I have tomorrow and enjoying this beautiful day," said Dietrich.
The VCU sophomore said she's looking forward to wrapping up the semester and heading home to Northern Virginia for the summer.
As a certified nursing assistant, Dietrich will be working in a hospital in the upcoming months which qualified her for the COVID-19 shot in February.
"I felt this burden coming home before I was vaccinated," she explained. "Coming home for Christmas and coming home for Thanksgiving, I would make sure I would get tested and stay safe. Now I feel like that's kind of lifted off my shoulders a little bit."
Other VCU students echoed Dietrich's feelings.
"My sister has asthma, and just knowing I wouldn't be bringing it back to her because I'm vaccinated makes me feel better," said Erin Stephens.
The 20-year-old business student has already received one dose of the vaccine and will get the second well before returning home.
Stephen is also a resident adviser on campus, and in the meantime, calls on fellow rams to play it safe until they can do the same.
"It's been kind of ridiculous seeing all the freshmen go out and get COVID or be exposed to it, and then quarantine for weeks," Stephens said. "It's like, was the quarantine worth it?"
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VACCINATING VIRGINIA: COVID-19 Vaccine Phase by Health District
That's why Virginia's vaccine leader, Dr. Danny Avula, wants college students prioritized for coronavirus vaccinations but not because experts are necessarily concerned for their health.
"I'm not as worried about the individual impact on young adults. By and large, they're going to have really mild disease," Dr. Avula said. "It's really the reality that college students are drivers of transmission. When you look at that young adult population, because of their behaviors and their adherence to mitigation factors, they are spreaders of disease."
During a weekly telephone conference, Avula said he has been in communication with officials at Virginia colleges and universities to make plans to vaccinate students before they disperse across the state and country for the summer.
"We have a spreadsheet that kind of maps out the last day of classes, graduation dates, and the anticipated uptake of vaccine by the student population in all these institutions."
However, those plans hit a snafu due to a nationwide shortage of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine stemming from a manufacturing issue.
"Some of the higher ed institutions that were planning on starting student vaccination next week will have to push that back by a week or so," Avula said.
Officials are looking at two other options to deal with the shortage. One includes pairing institutions up with a pharmacy receiving separate allocations of doses to hold on-campus vaccination events.
The last option is asking universities to consider using a two-dose vaccine. However, Dr. Avula explained that could lead to scheduling conflicts if students can't receive both doses by the time the semester ends.
The delays come as state health leaders notice a concerning rise in COVID-19 cases among young people. It's a trend Dierich believes can be avoided.
"I know we're young, and we want to go out. We want to do these things, but we have so much time to do that. I think if we wait a little bit longer, we can save a lot of lives," she said.