Afraid of needles

Bethel community members demonstrate the ideological divide surrounding the COVID-19 vaccine and share their decisions and reasoning regarding the shot. 

By Nate Eisenmann | Reporter

With the recent rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine in the United States, the debate has been fiery. As vaccines become available, increasing numbers of people are choosing to get vaccinated, while some are choosing not to. This debate is demonstrated at Bethel through students with opposing views.

Currently there are three different vaccines approved for emergency use by the United States Food and Drug Administration. Each of these vaccines underwent rigorous testing prior to approval. However, due to the fact that the pandemic began just over a year ago, long-term side effects have not been determined. 

Dr. Joy Doan, a professor of biological sciences at Bethel, explains just how remarkable the vaccine timeline has been.

“The fact that there were multiple vaccines available for use around the world a mere 10 months after the [World Health Organization] declared SARS-CoV-2 a pandemic is absolutely remarkable,” Doan said. 

She noted that, prior to COVID, the fastest vaccine to be developed was that for mumps, which took four years.

Doan, who holds a doctorate in medical microbiology and immunology, mentioned that even though the process occurred so quickly, standard procedures were still followed. She said that many factors played into the fast-paced testing and approval process, such as the financial support and large sample sizes used.

Although the standards vaccines are required to meet for FDA approval are high, some people still don’t trust the vaccine. 

A recent study conducted by the Pew Research Center in February found that 30 percent of the American public did not plan on getting vaccinated while 69 percent plan on receiving or have already received the vaccine.

In a recent Clarion survey of 132 Bethel undergraduate students, 77 percent said that they had not yet been vaccinated while 23 percent said they had. Of those who had not yet been vaccinated, 23 percent said they do not plan on receiving the vaccine.

Bethel senior Ellie Hoyt is skeptical of the vaccine and does not plan on receiving it when it becomes available to her.

“[The vaccine] came out really, really fast,” Hoyt said. “Most vaccines go through years of clinical research. Do we know all of the side effects?”

Hoyt mentioned the role her religious convictions have played in her approach to the vaccine, saying “God created our bodies to heal themselves.”

Senior Ellie Hoyt does not plan on receiving the COVID-19 vaccine. “We can all have our own opinion,” said Hoyt.

Hoyt also shared her belief in the importance of not listening to only one source for information regarding the vaccine. She talked about reading different articles, not just those from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or the World Health Organization, but finding other sources of information.

“[I read] articles that are by doctors that have been silenced,” Hoyt said, but she could not cite any specific articles or doctors. “I hope [people] right now will do the research for themselves, challenge the narrative for themselves and [not] believe everything they’re told.”

One of the main reasons cited by participants of The Clarion’s survey who did not plan on receiving the vaccine was that it had not been studied long enough to test for long-term side effects. Another reason was due to fears of infertility.

Doan acknowledges that there is misinformation regarding the vaccine, especially on the internet, but says that the COVID-19 vaccine is safe according to reliable sources such as the CDC, WHO and National Institute for Health.

“The broad consensus of the scientific community is that vaccines are safe and effective,” Doan said. “Yes, there are people who should not get certain vaccines, and every health care provider and scientist will acknowledge this fact, but there is very little serious risk to vaccination for an otherwise healthy individual.”

Hoyt notices that her beliefs and outspokenness against the COVID-19 vaccine have resulted in higher tensions in relationships, but this hasn’t swayed her point of view. 

“We can all have our own opinion,” Hoyt said. “At the end of the day we should all respect each other. Without conversation and dialogue, you can’t actually know more about others’ opinions.”

While there are groups of people at Bethel choosing to forego the COVID-19 vaccine, many students plan to get vaccinated or have already done so. 

Senior social work major Kenzie Hanenburg interns at the Glenwood Residence of Catholic Charities in St. Paul and received a vaccination for COVID-19 due to the nature of her internship. Hanenburg’s job entails working in close contact with older adults who have experienced homelessness and now live full time in the residence shelter. Many of these residents are men who are chronic alcoholics and therefore are at high risk for having severe complications if they were to contract the virus that causes COVID-19.

Although she had already contracted the virus in August 2020, Hanenburg said that she still wanted to get vaccinated to avoid future infection and to protect the health of those around her. 

“I know there’s more research to be done,” Hanenburg said. “But [I trust] the research that has been done.”

 Senior Kenzie Hanenburg stands outside Catholic Charities Glenwood residence where she works as an intern helping people who have experienced homelessness.

Even though she doesn’t face much backlash for her choice to get vaccinated and follow the CDC guidelines, Hanenburg says that there are friends and family members who don’t have the same opinions about the vaccine, so she emphasizes the importance of talking about each other’s perspectives.

“We’re all human, we’re all entitled to our beliefs,” Hanenburg said. “Conversations around it are really important.”

One specific group at Bethel that has early access to the COVID-19 vaccine is the nursing program. Dr. Diane Dahl, nursing department chair, explains that there are actually five separate nursing programs at Bethel and three of the five require clinical work, which involves practicing direct care to patients in hospitals in the Twin Cities. Through these clinicals, nursing students had the option to get the vaccine during the past few months. 

None of the clinical locations that Bethel works with require the COVID-19 vaccine at this point, but it is highly encouraged by both the hospitals and Bethel nursing department. Dahl said that she believes that in a year or two, the vaccine will be a requirement for nursing clinicals.

Although she didn’t have exact numbers of nursing students who had or had not been vaccinated, Dahl estimated that about 30 percent had chosen not to get vaccinated and noted that this is the trend among nursing programs of nearby colleges and universities.

Because the current vaccines are only available under emergency use authorization, Bethel cannot require that community members vaccinate. The director of COVID-19 operations, Kristi Moline, said that Bethel applied to host vaccination clinics on campus for the general public but was denied. However, Bethel continues to work with both the Minnesota Department of Health and the Ramsey County Public Health Center to find vaccination options for community members when they become available.

With the mistrust and conflicting opinions around the vaccine, Dahl said that the goal of the nursing department, like many health organizations focused on the vaccine, is to educate.

“We can inform, explain and educate. We want to make sure that [students] have the most current information about the vaccination. We have to respect people’s opinions,” Dahl said. “I know it’s hard. How you come at it and your frame of COVID is so different from mine. It makes sense that we view it so differently. We all come from different life circumstances. I think that’s important for all of us to remember.”

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