D210902 vaccine

Nurse Sandra Cross administers the COVID-19 vaccine to student Maddi Zeanah at Calhoun Community College on Wednesday. The school has had 30 students take the Moderna vaccine in the first two days of clinics offering it on campus. [JERONIMO NISA/DECATUR DAILY]

Second-year Calhoun Community College student Maddi Zeanah received her first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine Wednesday but said the $150 incentive offered by the school to students and employees was not her primary motivation.

“I was probably going to get it anyway,” she said. However, she admits the incentive is a nice bonus and getting vaccinated also had another benefit other than protection.

“I’m on the golf team, so if someone on the team gets COVID, I’d only have to quarantine for three days, as opposed to 14 or 15 days.”

Zeanah's decision to get vaccinated reflected the trend officials are seeing statewide. Financial incentives are providing limited motivation, but more people are seeking vaccinations.

“Unfortunately, the delta virus has clearly played a role in that because so many people have been sick," said Judy Smith, area administrator of the Alabama Department of Public Health. "The biggest motivator for people has been all the numbers of people that are sick, the numbers of people that are in the hospital.”

The total number of virus patients in state hospitals was 2,880 on Wednesday, not far below below the pandemic high-water mark of 3,087 reached in January.

Over the last week, an average of 92 Morgan County residents and 65 Limestone residents have tested positive for the coronavirus per day.

Calhoun, which is in Decatur-annexed Limestone County, had 30 students and employees receive the Moderna vaccine in the first two days of a campus vaccination clinic that continues today from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. in the math and science building.

Another Calhoun student vaccinated Wednesday, retiree Jim Wicks, who is majoring in music technology, said he was hesitant to get his first dose of vaccine.

“You hear so many opinions on each side about how it can affect you, good or bad,” Wicks said. “I heard about possible side effects, and I know it hasn’t been tested like other drugs. So, I thought I’d wait awhile and see what happens and just observe."

Zeanah said she was not worried about side effects from the vaccine. “Everyone I talked to just said that you might feel a little bad after the first few days (but) were fine afterward.”

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'Protecting their students'

Wicks said he didn't need the financial incentive but it would be nice to have.

Calhoun is one of about two dozen community colleges in the state offering some type of incentive for vaccinations. Smith said her main concern is that people get vaccinated, regardless of whether an incentive is offered.

“Nationwide, the incentives have not been as encouraging as we would have liked them to have been, but again, people are reaching out to do whatever they can to make things happen," she said.

Alabama still ranks near the bottom in the nation for the percentage of people fully vaccinated with about 38%, according to data from the Mayo Clinic.

Smith said she supports the incentive Calhoun is offering students and employees.

“I think it’s a demonstration of how important that these colleges feel about protecting their students," she said. “We wish people would take the vaccine without it, but if that’s what it takes, then clearly the college is speaking to their kids."

Calhoun students and staff who previously received the vaccines will also be eligible for the incentive. Students must be enrolled in the fall 2021 semester and taking credit-bearing classes to be receive the $150 payment. The incentives will be paid out on or near Nov. 30.

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Encounters with COVID

This time last year Zeanah had COVID, but said that it was not too bad. “The only problem I really had was breathing. I’d be sitting in bed and couldn’t get a full breath of air, and I’ve never had problems breathing.”

Zeanah’s brother also had COVID, but it was more severe. They both were diagnosed at the beginning of the 2020-2021 school year. “He got it at the beginning of the school year, and he didn’t go back until the beginning of this school year,” she said.

Wicks said he had COVID a couple of months ago but his symptoms were mild. He finally decided to go ahead with the vaccine. “It just seems like, at my age, it would probably be a good move to get it done,” said Wicks, who is in his 60s.

Wicks said several of his friends have had COVID. “They had fairly mild symptoms to very sick. One guy just got out of the hospital.” Another one of his friends died recently from COVID.

Calhoun said 25 students or faculty members were vaccinated Monday and five Wednesday. Tuesday's clinic was canceled due to threatening weather but may be rescheduled.

Calhoun will hold vaccination clinics next week, on Tuesday and Wednesday, at its Huntsville campus. It will be in the Sparkman Building Student Center from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Other community colleges are offering various incentives. Southern Union State Community College in Wadley, Opelika and Valley will enter students who show proof of vaccination into a drawing for a $500 scholarship for the spring semester. At Gadsden State Community College, students who are fully vaccinated will be eligible for a $500 book assistance program, and full-time employees can receive a $50 voucher to the campus cafeteria or campus bookstores.

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—erica.smith@decaturdaily.com or 256-340-2460. Alabama Daily News contributed to this report.

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