Shots of history

University vaccine clinic brings light to pandemic-tainted year


Jesse Barber

Medical workers bring supplies into the Holmes Convocation Center on Thursday in preparation for the App State vaccination rollout.

Emily Broyles and Jake Markland

Just over one year ago, students and faculty sighed in relief after App State announced an extended spring break because of COVID-19. Eventually, the university announced a return to normalcy wouldn’t be immediate. Buildings locked and services moved virtual. Now, the university is providing eager students, faculty and staff with the vaccine they need to move on.

App State vaccinated 310 people on March 11, the first day of its vaccine clinic. The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services approved the Holmes Convocation Center to be a community vaccination distribution center. Holmes can accommodate up to 1,000 vaccinations per day while abiding by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.

Eligible students, faculty and staff scheduled appointments to receive one of the 620 doses of Johnson & Johnson vaccines the university expects to distribute over two days. 

App State spokesperson Megan Hayes says the type of dose could change depending on what’s available. She said the university will continue holding vaccine clinics as long as needed.

“You kind of feel like you’re a part of history.”

Polly Osowitt, a registered nurse with M.S. Shook Student Health Services, said the clinic is a step in benefiting “the future of the whole world.”

“We’re so excited that they’re willing to do this,” Osowitt said. “You know we have a pandemic going on, and the more people that are vaccinated, hopefully the shorter that time is going to be.”

Student health services staff like Osowitt, nurse practitioners, physicians and physician’s assistants helped administer the J&J vaccine. Osowitt said she was impressed by the organization of the event.

For senior nursing major Sandra Wommack, administering the vaccine with these medical workers felt like a special day in the classroom.

A group of nursing students administering J&J vaccines pose for a portrait. (Jesse Barber)

“We’ve still gotten to go to all of our clinic rotations in person, so that’s been nice,” Wommack said. “I still feel like I’ve gotten a great learning experience. I love the nursing program and I’ve learned a lot.”

Wommack encourages students to get the vaccine when eligible. Along with being protected from the virus, Wommack looks to the vaccine’s legacy. 

“It’s pretty cool because you kind of feel like you’re a part of history, just trying to get things back to normal at some point,” Wommack said. “Hopefully by the summer things will be somewhat as they were before.”

Travis Cothran, a lab safety specialist with App State’s Department of Environmental Health, Safety and Emergency Management, said he hopes the clinic can bring down general levels of the virus.

“That way, we can have better, more healthy students and maybe even come fall we’ll have in-person classes too,” Cothran said.

As of Thursday, North Carolina has had 879,825 cases of COVID-19 and 11,622 COVID-19 related deaths. The 7-day rolling average of cases has decreased and 11% of the state is fully vaccinated. 

Cothran, who worked as a greeter at the clinic guiding people to different stations, said he learned his role in the event starting Tuesday. He has also assisted at COVID-19 testing sites on campus throughout the academic year. 

He received his vaccine at 9:45 a.m. at the clinic.

An essential worker walks into Holmes Convocation Center, one of the first to receive a dose at App State’s new vaccine clinic. (Max Correa)

Jody Miller, a faculty member on the Emergency Management Task Force “since the beginning,” has not received his dose yet. He said he’s eager to eventually get the vaccine. 

Miller, assistant director of operations for the Holmes Center, oversees security, full-time housekeeping and manages a manager in charge of student workers. He said even though student staff has been cut by over 90%, no challenges occurred in setting up for the clinic, thanks to the championship-winning men’s basketball team

“With the basketball team’s away tournament, we were able to start several days early,” Miller said. “So we just did 6 hours a day, just kind of took our time setting it up, figuring it out as we went.”

He said that guest experience is a priority for the Holmes Center. 

“We just want to make sure everyone feels comfortable,” he said.

Some faculty have been re-allocated to new departments throughout COVID-19. In October 2020, Donna Merrell, associate director of Campus Dining, was asked to join the Department of Environmental Health, Safety and Emergency Management. 

“I’m really excited to be able to do this kind of work,” Merrell said. “I dedicate all my work to the students and to the campus and this is just another great way that I can show up and make a difference.”

In her new role on the support team, Merrell helps facilitate COVID-19 testing events and supports students in quarantine or isolation.

I don’t want to die.”

Students who work on campus were able to get vaccinated at the clinic. 

Private areas were established for vaccine recipients who had adverse reactions to the vaccine during the mandatory waiting period. (Max Correa)

“I just kind of want things to get back to normal, and this definitely helps,” Savannah Miles, a supervisor for the Plemmons Student Union, said. 

Miles said vaccination workers were “super sweet” and made sure she had food and drinks before leaving. Other than a sore arm, she says she had a positive experience. 

Carleigh Scott, a lifeguard at the Student Recreation Center, said the process was easy and the workers made her feel comfortable. 

“On campus, since we’re all in such close proximity, I think that’s really important for everybody to be vaccinated,” Scott said. “You know, I’d like to have in-person classes sometime soon.”

Scott, a junior, said she’s “trying to keep an open mind” going into her senior year and hopes to successfully student teach next spring. 

James Apisai, who is working in child care this summer, said he doesn’t do well with needles but got the vaccine anyways. 

“I have a lot of family that is susceptible and I don’t want to infect them,” Apisai said. “I had a little bit of a blacking-out incident.” 

Leonardo Negrete-Perez, a freshman, had a straightforward reason for getting the vaccine: “I don’t want to die.”

When can I get a vaccine?

North Carolina is administering COVID-19 vaccines in five phases, or groups. Individuals in Groups 1, 2 and 3 are currently eligible to receive a vaccine. 

Group 1 includes health care workers and long-term care facility staff and residents. Group 2 includes people aged 65 and older. 

Group 3, the focus of App State’s first clinic, includes North Carolina residents with frontline essential jobs and childcare workers. To be considered Group 3, individuals must work in person within an essential sector, including education, food, community services or public safety. 

App State students living in residence halls can get vaccinated starting March 17, when part of Group 4 becomes eligible. Group 4 includes adults who are at higher risk of contracting COVID-19, whether that be due to a medical condition or living in a congregate setting. 

At an unspecified date, individuals in Group 5 will become eligible for a vaccine. Group 5 includes anyone who has not received a vaccine at that point.

How do I sign up for a vaccine appointment?

App State is following the prioritization guidelines put in place by the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services. 

The university will email individuals when they are eligible. Everyone in the App State community, students, faculty and staff, will be able to receive a vaccine for free from App State. 

If an eligible individual does not receive an email, they may be able to get a vaccine appointment through a different local distribution center. Among others, vaccines are available through AppHealthCare, Appalachian Regional Healthcare System and some area pharmacies. 

The Appalachian added the phrase “Eventually, the university announced a return to normalcy wouldn’t be immediate. Buildings locked and services moved virtual” since publication for further context.