Surprise shots, limited slots: Northwestern students seek last-minute Pfizer vaccines in Norris


Nick Francis/Daily Senior Staffer

Communication freshman Courtney Sullivan Wu shortly after receiving her first dose of Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine. Sullivan Wu got the shot after midnight Sunday morning.

Alex Perry and Nick Francis

Scores of students rushed to Norris University Center in the middle of the night Saturday for a chance to receive a COVID-19 vaccine.

In an unexpected email sent at 9:29 p.m. Saturday night, the University notified on-campus students 169 unused Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines were available — and that appointments started at midnight. The midnight vaccine clinic was held just days before Illinois opens up vaccines to all residents ages 16 and older.

Students who secured a vaccine slot were intermittently moved to the third floor of Norris when their appointment time arrived. There, they filled out consent forms and were vaccinated by a team of 13 who set up the last-minute clinic, including staff from the Office of Student Affairs, Residential Services, Northwestern University Health Service and the University’s COVID Response Team.

An unknown “local public health department” provided the University with extra doses that would spoil by 7 a.m. the next morning. Luke Figora, vice president of operations, said the vaccines were offered to the University to ensure none went to waste.

Weinberg freshman Lily Ng was watching a movie in her dorm when she received the email from Residential Services. She had been trying to get her first vaccine dose the past week, but slots on Cook County’s website quickly filled up.

After seeing the email, Ng said she immediately filled out the form and received a confirmation email with her appointment time of 12:30 a.m. Ng’s friend accompanied her to Norris, where she filled out a release form and read up on the risks before receiving the shot.

“All of the staff were super nice,” Ng said. “The guy who vaccinated me went to the same high school as me, so we were just chatting about that.”

Ng said that while at Norris, she was not told how to get her second dose. She said she worried students would be left on their own to figure out how to get the second shot. But the Saturday night email said NU would assist anyone receiving their first dose in arranging a second dose.

“We’ll get the public health department to give us second doses for anyone that gets the first dose here tonight,” Figora told The Daily.

A few students, Figora added, got their second dose at Norris Sunday morning after getting their first shot at other locations in weeks prior.

Communication freshman Courtney Sullivan Wu was in Norris when the email was sent. She said she did not receive an email herself, but was able to access the signup link and secure an appointment from an email her friend had forwarded.

Sullivan Wu had previously been searching for vaccines, but was not eligible in the area. When the opportunity came up, she decided to do whatever she had to get inoculated. As a self-proclaimed night owl, her 1:30 a.m. appointment was not a problem, she said, but the last-minute, cryptic nature of the vaccine opportunity contributed to a shared sense of confusion.

“I just don’t understand why it’s at 1:30,” Sullivan Wu said. “I just want to know what their thought process was.”

Students sitting at tables, on couches in a dimly lit facility, next to the Starbucks located within Norris University Center.
Students in Norris University Center waiting for an opportunity to receive one of nearly 200 leftover vaccine doses. An email came out shortly before midnight offering the Pfizer vaccine to students, some of whom received a shot after 2 a.m. (Nick Francis/Daily Senior Staffer)

Not all students were as lucky. Weinberg freshman Kyla Neely filled out the form, but did not receive a confirmation email. She went to Norris at around 1:15 a.m. after reading on Twitter that a waitlist had started. Like Ng, Neely had been unsuccessful in registering for her first vaccine through Cook County.

Around 2:30 a.m, Neely said she was one of six people left. The group was then told by a volunteer that only four vaccines were available, and that they would play a bracketed game of guessing the closest number to decide who would be vaccinated.

Neely, who lost the first round and vied for redemption in the losers’ bracket, did not get vaccinated.

As Neely was leaving, the volunteer told her that she should consider alternatives like signing up for the nationwide study that recently opened up for undergraduate students. The study, which offers compensation, randomizes vaccination bookings, meaning that it could be July until a study participant is offered one.

“He was just saying, ‘Just be on the lookout (and) hopefully we’ll have more appointments available or hopefully something like this will happen again,’” Neely said.

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Twitter: @nick24francis and @WhoIsAlexPerry

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