As Arkansas lessens restrictions, JBU students receive vaccines during third campus clinic

Last March, students were scattered around the country, taking classes via Zoom from their bedrooms and kitchen tables as John Brown University remained closed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

If sophomore Jemi Kapapula could have told herself anything a year ago, it would be to stay strong. “That’s really cheesy, but it was easy to think that the worst is behind you,” Kapapula said. “When in actuality, it’s not so much the worst being behind you, but your ability to handle that and to be prepared for stuff not going exactly to plan.”

Yet, there is a ray of hope on the horizon as Kapapula and other JBU students received their first COVID-19 vaccine dose on March 31 in a clinic at the Walton Lifetime Health Complex.

The third clinic hosted by JBU was made possible through a connection with Mercy Northwest Arkansas Hospital, where University President Chip Pollard serves as a member of the community board, according to Julie Gumm, director of University Marketing and Communications. Throughout the day, 638 Moderna vaccines were administered, and an estimated 250 to 300 students received their first dose. Individuals will receive their second dose during another clinic on April 30.

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson lifted the state’s mask mandate and opened vaccine eligibility to all Arkansans ages 16 and older on March 30, according to a press release from the governor’s office. However, Hutchinson requested that Arkansans “respect decisions made by schools, private businesses, and event venues that may still require masks on their property,” according to 40/29 News.

On Wednesday, Pollard shared potential adjustments to the university’s COVID-19 response due to increasing vaccinations but only after April 14 “to give those students a chance to build up significant immunity” since the “the Moderna vaccine will be 80% effective two weeks after the initial dose …” according to an email sent to JBU students. Students have been sent a survey asking “for feedback only on the last five to six weeks of this semester,” including thoughts on professors removing masks for lectures and students removing masks in classes, as long as physical distancing guidelines are met. If an outbreak occurs, protocols would be reinstated.

Erik Ramirez, junior art and illustration major, said that JBU has been handling vaccinations smoothly. “People are taking their time, being patient. It’s really important for people to be calm in this process,” Ramirez said, “because, honestly, we’ve been isolated for so long we’ve kind of grown into this expectation of being patient and just making sure that everything is going fine.”

The clinic was also open to community members in Northwest Arkansas and surrounding areas, which allowed Springdale resident and 2018 JBU alumna Kenzie Meeker to receive her first dose. “I’m happy to see JBU stepping up for the community and opening their doors so that anyone can get vaccinated … It’s a responsibility that we have to protect others and ourselves,” Meeker said. “I’m glad to finally have it. It’ll be a lot safer for everybody.”

As he wraps up his senior year in the midst of the pandemic, English major Coby Dolloff is hopeful about the future with the vaccine. “The more people we have on campus that have been vaccinated … the more that the university leadership can feel safe opening things up for us,” Dolloff said. “It’s my senior semester, and I would love, if we feel like it’s safe enough, to kind of have a little more going on on-campus, to have a little more at the end of the semester than we might have expected.”

If students missed the clinic and would still like to get vaccinated, Gumm recommends students check with the Arkansas Department of Health to find “local vaccine providers and contact one to schedule an appointment.” “At this time you will not be able to get a first dose of Moderna on the day that everyone is getting their second dose,” Gumm said.

Photos by Catherine Nolte/The Threefold Advocate