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Professors share experiences receiving COVID-19 booster vaccine

| Monday, November 22, 2021

Claire Reid | The Observer

The COVID-19 booster vaccine is currently available to all fully-vaccinated Indiana residents over the age of 18. Individuals are eligible to receive the booster if they have completed the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna two-dose series over six months ago or if they received the Johnson & Johnson single-dose vaccine over two months ago.

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) strongly recommends that those over the age of 50, those over 18 who have underlying conditions or who are living or working in high-risk settings and those who originally received a Johnson & Johnson brand vaccine receive the booster.

Although students, faculty and staff were required to be fully vaccinated in order to return to campus this fall, the University does not currently require the booster dose for any member of the Notre Dame community.

Director of media relations Sue Ryan said the administration is proud of the effect the original vaccine requirement has had on community health this semester.

“Based on the University’s COVID case numbers this semester compared to a year ago, it is clear that the vaccine mandate made a significant positive impact on the health of the Notre Dame community and the ability for the University to conduct the semester like a more typical year,” she wrote in an email. “We are pleased with respect to the low number of positive COVID cases this semester, and we continue to believe that a highly-vaccinated campus community is extremely important in the fight against this disease.”

As far as booster vaccines are concerned, Ryan wrote that the University will continue to monitor federal, state and local guidelines while working with partners to determine the best next steps for the health and safety of the campus community.

Associate professor of history John Deak specializes in modern German and European history. The bookshelves in his small office are lined wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling with books on topics ranging from Nazi Germany to Plato. He’s read most of them, but joked that the rest are there to make him “feel smart.”

Deak recently received the Moderna booster vaccine because his research requires him to travel to Austria and Italy soon.

“I have received a grant from the federal government that’s going to require me to travel and do research at archives in Europe, and I need to update my vaccinations in order to enter the European Union,” he explained.

Deak and his wife Karen are also faculty members in-residence living in Dunne Hall. 

“We live on campus with 220 undergraduates,” he added. “That’s another reason I got the vaccine. We want to keep them safe and keep me safe.”

Diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, Deak consulted with his doctor before receiving the booster. Although CDC recommendations now allow individuals to “mix and match,” or receive a different brand of booster than their initial vaccine, Deak’s doctor recommended that — due to his underlying condition — he stick with Moderna.

In comparison to the original two-dose Moderna vaccine series, he said the side effects of receiving the booster shot were more manageable.

“[With] the original vaccine, I had lots of pain, like muscle pain, and kind of felt run over by a bus,” he recalled. “This time, I still had the muscle pain, but it wasn’t as bad. It was kind of like when you get the flu … when you feel very sick but you have no energy and no ability to focus. I had none of the sickness, but none of the focus.”

After receiving the booster mid-day on a Thursday, he said these symptoms kicked in Friday and subsided by Saturday evening. 

Though he didn’t take a strong stance on the issue, Deak said he thinks it would be a good idea for the University to require the booster vaccine for students, faculty and staff.

“We’re seeing a lot of breakthrough infections because the vaccines have a waning effect,” he said. “It’s probably a very good idea to keep the student body, faculty and people like me who have comorbidities safe.”

Tim O’Malley — a theology professor and faculty member at the McGrath Institute for Church Life — also received the booster vaccine. However, in contrast to Deak, he said he does not think the University should require it at the moment.

“I don’t think we have the data to require anyone to receive a third vaccine,” O’Malley said. “There’s a reason that recommendations for the vaccine are for the few.”

Even so, he said he decided it would be the wisest decision to receive the Pfizer-BioNTech booster — the same brand he initially received in February 2021 — in order to protect the 260 students in his popular Nuptial Mystery theology course.

O’Malley said the booster vaccination process was easier than the initial two-dose series and that the side effects were less intense.

“I had joint pain for a couple of days,” he said. “The whole thing took 35 seconds. I then wandered Walgreens looking at Christmas candy.”

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About Claire Reid

Claire Reid is an associate news editor at the Observer for the 2022 - 2023 term. She is a junior from Madison, Wisconsin in the Journalism, Ethics and Democracy program.

Contact Claire