These students won’t get a jab
Vaccination? No way
John has lost one of his best friends. The international and European law student had known her for over a decade and they had been quite close. But now, she doesn’t want to see him anymore. And it’s not because he committed a crime or he had been disrespectful to her. It’s because they got into a fight about vaccinations.
John hasn’t gotten one, nor is he planning to.
‘We were at this party and the conversation came round to vaccinations. And then someone asked me if I had been vaccinated already. I said that no, I hadn’t, because I felt the vaccine hadn’t been tested enough yet. Then my friend turned around and told me that anyone who doesn’t want to get the vaccine is egotistical!’
She didn’t want to see him again until he had gotten his shot against Covid-19.
‘I was shocked that a good friend would do something like that’, he says. ‘But it hasn’t changed my mind.’
John – not his real name – is one of roughly 1.8 million people in the Netherlands (children not included) who have not been vaccinated against the Covid-19 virus. Even though at first students were jostling to get their vaccine as soon as possible, there are still many young people who have their doubts about getting jabbed.
At this point, 71 percent of people between the ages of twenty and twenty-nine in Groningen have been vaccinated, according to figures provided by the GGD (Public Health Service). That is more than the Dutch average. Only 67 percent of them had their first shot and where 56 percent is fully vaccinated.
I usually avoid talking about it, I don’t want to lose any more friends
For John, his friend’s reaction was reason enough to be careful about what he says in the future. ‘I usually avoid talking about it. And when people ask me directly, I will just try to change the subject. I don’t want to lose any more friends.’
John was mostly worried about the speed with which the Covid-19 vaccines have entered the market. His friend and fellow international and European law student Maartje feels the same way. She’s no anti-vaxxer, she says. ‘I did have all my childhood vaccines’, she stresses.
However, she’s rather uneasy about the rapid pace with which the Covid vaccines were developed. ‘I am worried that my immune system might take a real hit because of the vaccine. But at the same time, I have faith in it now. If I were to get Covid, I think I would be able to ride it out without a stay in the hospital or anything like that.’
Funnily enough, she was worried about her parents, during the first and second wave. She also encouraged her parents to get a shot. ‘But they are vaccinated now, so it doesn’t matter as much for me to get a shot too.’
But Maartje’s point of view has also had its effects on her social life. Her sister and her sister’s partner both work as vaccinators for the GGD. And they are not amused, to say the least. ‘She can be very pushy’, Maartje says. ‘She sends me links to vaccination portals and tells me about her own experiences – that she hasn’t seen any maleffects at all. Her insistence can be difficult to navigate.’
It doesn’t figure too much – her sister lives in Hilversum.
I’ve had a lifelong fear of hypodermic needles’
But other students – like Irish University College Groningen student Keelan Toomey – have a completely different reason for avoiding vaccination. Keelan really would like a shot. If it were only possible to get one without using a needle.
‘I’ve had this lifelong fear of hypodermic needles’, he says. His condition is also known as trypanophobia in medical parlance. ‘I know that that fear is an irrational one’, he says. And he also realises that people may have a hard time believing him, when they see his quite noticeable tattoos. ‘It’s one that I just can’t explain. It is just there.’ For him an oral vaccine would be a godsend.
They are aware that society wants them to get vaccinated. Like in France, where physics student Thom has recently returned from. He, too, is unwilling to take a vaccine, because he trusts his immune system more than he does the vaccine.
‘But over there, cafes, restaurants, bars, and cinemas remain off limits to those who are yet to get a vaccine-linked ‘pass sanitaire’ or who’ve paid the 40 euros for a same-day test’, he says. For him, it meant he was excluded from coffee catch ups with his friends. ‘It marginalises those who cannot afford a test and want to retain their medical autonomy.’
The Netherlands, until now, have been hassle-free, he feels. But it might not stay that way. ‘And it’s not that I don’t understand where others are coming from’, he says. ‘But I also believe that Covid for me would be as simple as getting a cold and moving on.’
Thom too, though, tries to avoid talking about vaccinations. And Keelan – even though his flatmates are not bothered by his decisions – is afraid to be stigmatised by people he is not that close to.
Life goes on
For students like John, Thom, and Keelan discussions about their choices remain rare. But, Keelan says as university reopens, ‘the topic comes up in conversation once or twice a week’. ‘I’m fairly open about it’, says Keelan ‘But I don’t want to be confronted with aggression about it. If people think it’s stupid or irrational…’, he trails off, ‘life goes on.’
I my right to choose trumps the thoughts of others
All students are certain about one thing: that they have the right to their own choice, even when that affects others. ‘I realise my decision is a bit of a selfish one and I also worry about playing petri dish to new variants of the virus’, Thom says. ‘But I do believe my right to choose trumps the thoughts of others.’
What do others think? One could safely assume that staff and faculty at the UG have their own concerns about unvaccinated students. When asked about their anxiety, John says his self testing and mask use should allay any fears ‘The vaccine has been easy to get for a while and professors have had the possibility to get one if they feel unsafe.’ He offers an alternative: ‘I am happy to wear a mask… I’ll be testing myself several times a week too.’
For students like Thom and Keelan, life will continue as normal this week, albeit with lectures to attend, readings to do, and parties to be at. For the vaccinated, it will soon become apparent if the shots in our arms will offer sufficient protection to the whole university community, hopefully keeping the lights on and university’s doors open in the process. As John nonchalantly offers ‘life goes on…’
With the GGD (Public Health Service) recording vaccination rates of 71 percent among people aged twenty to twenty-nine in the province, these students remain in the minority. Hanneke Mensink, a spokesperson with the GGD, says ‘it has never been easier to get a vaccine than now’.
People can get a vaccine at Martiniplaza without an appointment. ‘You only need to bring an ID,’ says Mensink. On offer is the single shot Janssen vaccine with other types available upon request. Other vaccination centres, opened for the new academic year, are handily laid out so that in theory one could pop in after a 9 a.m. lecture or on your way home from class.
- Martiniplaza; Daily, between 9 a.m. and 4.30 p.m.
- Academy Building; Wednesday September 8, between 9 a.m. and 4.30 p.m.
- Willem Alexander Sport Centrum on Zernike campus; Thursday September 9, between 9 a.m. and 4.30 p.m.
Running the health authority’s largest ever vaccine rollout is no mean feat and this means that ‘the GGD is really only involved with the rollout’. However, Mensink stresses that the GGD aims to accommodate those who are hesitant. ‘People who are a bit anxious can indicate this immediately upon arrival.’
While the GGD are not in the business of incentivising vaccinations, they are careful to stress that in the Netherlands ‘we don’t do things just like that, we use really good research to make accurate medical decisions’. ‘If students are still unsure about their choice to get a shot, they are welcome to come and speak to the medical staff on hand and be further informed’, Mensink says.