What You Need To Know from UCI Health Affairs’ COVID-19 Vaccine Town Hall

UC Irvine Health Affairs held a town hall on Thursday, Feb. 25 regarding Orange County’s recent movement to Phase 1B for COVID-19 vaccine distribution, which includes vaccinating university employees.

Vaccine distribution in the United States has been distributed to a few specific categories of people at a time. The first group was Phase 1A, which includes all medical workers—nurses, paramedics, dental workers, etc.—and then adults ages 65 and older were soon added onto the eligible group. 

Orange County has just been added to the list of California counties that will enter Phase 1B. Phase 1B includes food service, grocery, agriculture, childcare, emergency service and educational workers. The educational workers category includes those in higher education, thus everybody who is paid by UCI is qualified to receive a vaccination, UCI Health Affairs assured.

As doses are limited, UCI will only be distributing doses at the Bren Events Center to university employees that are on a list of people required to work on campus. This includes certain student employees, as well. These eligible employees receive an email invitation as the dose supply increases. 

Though UCI will only be distributing doses to on-site employees for now, all employees are eligible to receive a letter of verification, which can be obtained on the UC-Path Payroll self-service link, or, preferably, by contacting the UCI COVID Response Center (CRC) by email at [email protected] or by phone at (949) 824-9918. The phone line is staffed from Monday to Friday from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., and Saturday to Sunday from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. They will ask for the caller’s name and UCI email and then they will send a verification letter to the email address as soon as one day after contact.  

woman looking at a computer while wearing a mask Photo by engin akyurt from Unsplash

UCI Health Affairs town hall representatives encourage anybody who qualifies to get an appointment wherever and whenever possible. While the Bren Events Center is limited to certain UCI employees, any location that is serving individuals under Phase 1B are eligible to get the vaccine using the verification letter, a paystub or an employee ID as proof at the location. UCI employees will receive two hours of paid sick leave for a vaccination appointment and can use any remaining COVID leave in response to vaccine symptoms.

Vaccination appointments are difficult to make in Orange County and some other regions, but UCI Health Affairs encouraged those eligible to “be persistent, get vaccinated,” as an appointment window will eventually open. Othena is the best website to use to get an appointment in Orange County for educational workers. MyTurn is the website for the state of California for others getting the vaccine elsewhere.

UCI student employees are eligible for the vaccine, but other students are not under Phase 1B. Representatives estimate that by March 15, vaccines in Orange County will either be open to all of those at high risk—including cancer patients, those with asthma, and other immunocompromised individuals—or open to any adult, which would include all students.  

The representatives emphasized on multiple occasions how important it is to get a vaccine as soon as possible, as both vaccines are 95-98% effective, and once 70-85% of adults 16 and older are vaccinated, re-openings will finally be safe.

Based on data from Phase 1A, the vaccine is also effective against mutant strains like the UK, South African, and California strains. The number of medical workers’ cases of the California strain have plummeted to almost zero after the Phase 1A rollout.

coronavirus vaccine Photo by Hakan Nural from Unsplash

Individuals who are pregnant, nursing and/or immunocompromised are more likely to be affected by the virus, but not more likely to be harmed by the vaccine. For those pregnant or nursing, the antibodies produced by the body because of the vaccine will pass onto the baby, creating a second benefit. 

In case of reaction, everybody who receives the vaccination will be monitored on-site for 15 minutes, and those who have allergies will be monitored for 30 minutes. All sites have treatment for allergic reactions. 

Those who are afraid that they will be severely affected by the vaccine because of allergies are advised to contact their doctor to see if they will need to premedicate. For those who are not told by a doctor to do so, it is advised not to premedicate before receiving the vaccine, as the vaccine can potentially be less effective if something like ibuprofen is taken beforehand. 

The Moderna and Pfizer vaccines are virtually identical and are both highly effective and low-risk. The vaccine is an mRNA that does not go anywhere outside of the arm it is injected in, does not affect DNA and does not cause infertility or birth defects in any way. Patients will sometimes have symptoms from the first and/or second dose like a headache, fever or nausea, but this will last no more than one to three days and does not happen to everybody.

As for the 2021-22 school year, UCI is optimistic that with the vaccine rollout, UCI can begin in-person education for Fall 2021 quarter but will continue taking health and safety provisions and it is unlikely that the undergraduate class of 2021 will get an in-person commencement. The 70-85% vaccinated rate is extremely important for this plan for the fall to go through.

The UCI vaccine FAQ can be found here: https://www.ucihealth.org/covid-19/covid-vaccine-faq.