Students in Norbucks surprised with first-dose Moderna vaccines to prevent extra doses from going to waste

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Daily file illustration by Hank Yang

After a round of surprise vaccinations last Friday night, a handful of students were offered extra vaccines Thursday afternoon at the Norris University Center.

Emily Sakai, Web Editor

Weinberg sophomore Gisely Torres was biting into a MOD salad in the Norris University Center on Thursday afternoon when her day took an unexpected turn. 

At around 4:30 p.m, she was approached with an offer to receive the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine. Minutes later, Torres received her first dose on the second floor of Norris. 

“It was exhilarating,” Torres said. “Now I don’t have to go hours out of my way to drive somewhere, and given that I don’t have a car… this is huge for me.” 

For Torres and at least four other students, studying in Norbucks meant they were able to get vaccinated on the spot without an appointment. 

Ben Kaplan, who runs Northwestern’s unnamed vaccine clinic program, said the University distributed surprise vaccines because sometimes more doses are removed from multi-dose vials than needed. 

This happens infrequently, Kaplan said, when faculty, staff and students miss reserved vaccine appointments times. For example, 241 people were vaccinated at Norris on Thursday, Kaplan said, and five others did not show up for their appointments. 

“If people don’t show up, that’s another reason why we’re pulling some people from downstairs. We have to find somebody else from the building to come help fill that gap,” Kaplan said. 

Moderna COVID-19 vaccines need to be used within six hours of their removal from vial, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Asking students studying in the building saved the vaccines from going to waste. 

These surprise vaccinations come after the University unexpectedly emailed community members on Thursday afternoon offering vaccine appointments. Kaplan said so far, the clinic has been offering appointments to students with pre-existing conditions that put them at higher risk.

Although the extra vaccines were offered to students in Norbucks regardless of their risk, Kaplan said he discourages vaccine hopefuls from showing up at their doors. 

“We don’t recommend that people come and wait to see if we have extra doses. It’s a pretty rare thing that it happens,” Kaplan said. 

Still, Medill freshman Hope Thompson, who was among those who received an extra dose, suggested students consider a new study location if they are looking for a vaccine. 

“It was a cool way to get a vaccine because other people have to wait,” Thompson said.  “I guess Norris is the place to be studying. It seems like a good idea especially around 5 p.m., which seems like the sweet spot.” 

Not all students are pleased with Northwestern’s surprise vaccine roll-outs. McCormick freshman Shubhanshi Gaudani, said she has been trying to get vaccinated, but booking an appointment and arranging transportation is difficult as an international student. Getting a vaccine on campus would be the most convenient option, she said.

“I’m a bit sad that I wasn’t informed and that it was done randomly,” Gaudani said. “I’m also worried that there will be a shortage of vaccines soon, so the earlier I can get it the better, in terms of safety.” 

Gaudani said she wished the University would more closely monitor who has and has not received vaccines, so they could reach out to students like her who are actively looking to get vaccinated. 

For vaccine hopefuls, camping out at Norbucks might seem like a new strategy, especially with another round of vaccinations scheduled for Friday. But it’s hard to predict whether the clinic will have extras again, Kaplan added. 

“For (Friday), obviously we hope everybody shows up so we don’t have to scramble,” Kaplan said. “Generally, we think the demand from students is high enough that we don’t have to pull people in.” 

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Twitter: @em_sakai

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