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Valley Stream college students weigh in on vaccines

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Last summer, when Valley Stream resident and Princeton University student Jeremiah Omeike, 18, first heard about the possibility of Covid-19 vaccines, he said he felt a rush of excitement and a sense of relief to calm his pandemic anxiety.

In December, Omeike said he was elated after he heard about the first New Yorkers receiving Covid-19 vaccines. After that, he waited patiently until he was eligible to be inoculated.

Omeike said he scheduled his first appointment to receive the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine a few days after April 6 — the day when universal eligibility took effect, allowing all New Yorkers 16 and older to receive the Moderna, Pfizer-BioNTech or Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccinations. 

On May 10, Omeike said, he felt further encouraged after he heard Gov. Andrew Cuomo announce that the state and city University of New York boards would require proof of vaccination for all students attending in-person classes in the fall, and all private universities and colleges were encouraged to adopt the same guideline. 

Many other college-aged Valley Stream residents said they hope schools everywhere mandate that students receive Covid-19 vaccines. 

“I think more college-aged students being mandated to get vaccinated is fair because there is overwhelming evidence that the Covid-19 vaccines are safe,” said Omeike, a rising sophomore math major at Princeton in New Jersey. “College students who don’t get vaccinated are at risk to get more sick and put others at risk on campus, which can ultimately negatively impact everyone’s ability to attend school and learn.” 

Omeike said that although his university is private, the school is mandating all in-person students to be vaccinated. In the spring semester, he said, in-person campus activities at Princeton were severely limited, and even though he lived on campus, he attended classes on a hybrid schedule. In the fall he will return to living on campus with a full in-person schedule, and more in-person activities will be available.

Omeike said he would be comfortable with or without a mask on campus because everyone will be vaccinated. Mask protocols will be announced by New Jersey’s health department soon. 

Since being vaccinated, Omeike said, he has felt more comfortable shopping and attending school, and he has no worries about the vaccine. “I’m not afraid of facing any long-term side  effects that can happen because I received the Covid-19 vaccine . . . I want things to return to normal . . . I hope more Covid-19 vaccines come out soon, because the more, the merrier,” he said.

Valley Streamer Munahil Sultana, 18, is majoring in government and international studies at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Pa. Sultana, who will take in-person classes and live on campus in the fall, said her college is requiring all in-person students to be vaccinated. She will spend the summer on campus while completing two virtual summer internships.  

Sultana received the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in April. She is awaiting word on masking requirements.

“Requiring vaccines is the best decision the school could make to ensure that we get the education that we are paying for and to keep people safe,” Sultana said. “I think it’s fair to require in-person students to be vaccinated because there were so many Covid cases in colleges everywhere this past year.”

As a student who works in the athletic facilities, Sultana said she worried about contracting Covid-19 and spreading it to other students before she was vaccinated. “It’s liberating to be vaccinated because I feel less worried about catching Covid, and if I do get it, I will be less likely to get super-sick,” she said. 

Some Valley Stream college students, though, said they believe it’s unfair to require students to be vaccinated to attend in-person classes. Jalen Smith, 20, a sophomore criminal justice major at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City, said he would rather attend college virtually than receive a Covid-19 vaccination, which his college is requiring for in-person students in the fall. He said he wishes his school would allow unvaccinated students to attend school in person and require them to wear masks.

“It’s not fair for students, and I don’t trust the Covid-19 vaccines . . . It’s my choice, and no one can change my mind,” Smith said.   

He said he is concerned about possible short- and long-term effects from the vaccine. “I feel like the vaccines were rushed and not enough time was put into making them,” he said. “. . . I just wish things could go back to normal and we can get past the pandemic in another way, so I don’t have to spend my whole college career at home.”  

Smith said others in his home are hesitant to be vaccinated. His mother, Valley Streamer Aisha Darby, 45, said she does not feel comfortable receiving a Covid-19 vaccination, and she is pleased that her son has chosen to take classes virtually.

“The Covid-19 vaccines were created too quickly for my comfort, and there is such a huge push to influence people towards taking them, which is a huge red flag for me,” Darby said.