Balanced Messaging as a Duty of Care for Our Students

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I have been a college professor for over two decades, and in all my time teaching, I have never witnessed the kind of student struggles that have surfaced over recent semesters. Different levels of ailments have overtaken the students. Those more seriously ill have missed not days, but weeks of class. For some, they had to drop out of class to focus on recovering their health. Lasting health struggles led to poor academic performances.

Each student was impacted by the coronavirus, but not for the reason that most college officials, parents, or the general public would expect. What follows is the story of a particular student that is reflective of others in my classes.

Student Experience

Dylan, a healthy 18-year-old soccer player, who just completed my class this spring, serves as a case in point. He voluntarily shared with me his health struggles both during the semester and prior to it. These are his own words, which he has given permission to publish:

“I got the COVID-19 Moderna shot on June 2, 2021, then received a second Moderna shot on June 30, 2021. I felt very, very sick [two days] after the second vaccine, and felt a lot of pressure on my chest. I couldn’t breathe, and I felt dizzy. While I did my routine workout at the gym, I felt lightheaded. I also felt my heart beat out of rhythm. There would be times that I felt it skip beats, and [I] got really worried. I had episodes of fainting.

“[Three days after receiving the second vaccine] I went to go play soccer on Saturday, July 3 … and during that day I felt a lot of chest pressure. … As I went out [on] to the field, I really didn’t feel comfortable. I started to run. Five minutes into running I had to stop because I felt my heart going crazy, and I got so scared. I felt like I was going to die. My heart was pumping so fast, and going at a really high pace. I blacked out, and apparently blacked out for five minutes as coaches tried to see what was wrong. After that incident, I did not go to the hospital. I was just sidelined, on the bench, and drank water and was staying hydrated. But I knew [it was not dehydration] and there was something wrong. It really was not a good feeling, but I never suspected that it was [due to the] vaccine because I thought it was safe.

“[Two days later] on Monday, July 5, I went to work. I do construction. I really was not feeling that good. That afternoon [on the car ride home with family] I had another episode. I felt my heartbeat rising and rising. The symptoms were like having a heart attack: a lot of chest pressure, my left hand went numb, I couldn’t breathe, and my heart really started going crazy. I could not resist anymore. I yelled out because I felt like I was going to die. So as this happened, we quickly rushed to the hospital, for [doctors to] just tell me that it was chest pain. I went to the ER and they examined me and told me ‘everything is fine.’

“The following day on July 6, I went to my physician, and she referred me to a cardiologist. I went to the cardiologist on July 13, and he ran some tests and told me the vaccine had been causing myocarditis, but he did not diagnose me with myocarditis that same day. A week later, on July 20, [the cardiologist] saw on the ECG the heart was swollen.”

Dylan would struggle with additional health issues following his visit to the cardiologist, and his health remained in a fragile state during the entire semester. He describes what he felt:

“My nervous system was affected. After the vaccine, any little noise could make me anxious, and that remains to this day to a degree. Acupuncture has helped with nerves. Certain foods I cannot eat due to acid reflux. This was not there prior to getting the vaccine. While in class, I would get heart palpitations, and have to leave the session. When I felt that sensation, I would grab an essential oil, and rub the area, or put magnets on. It was a painful sensation, and my heart felt really sore.”

For the close of my course, students completed oral presentations. Dylan remembers that day: “There were times I had to stop, catch my breath, and then go back to the presentation. I never had that type of problem prior. It was after the vaccine.”

I listened to the former soccer star labor through his presentation, taking intermittent pauses to catch his breath after delivering basic sentences. I felt a mix of privilege (being the sole listener who knew his difficult journey) and heartbreak with having awareness of why he struggled.

Dylan Is Not Alone: The Numbers Concerning All of My Students

During the spring 2021 semester, I taught three classes with a total of 65 students by semester’s end. During the semester, two students, after missing class dates, shared complications including autoimmune issues that resulted after receiving a COVID-19 vaccine. A third student reported having significant health impacts resulting from the vaccine. He missed a week of class, and when he returned to the virtual class, he was bed-bound. An athlete who specialized in basketball, this bed-bound student shared his angst that he had suffered heart damage as a result of the vaccine and could no longer depend on a basketball scholarship to aid his future education.

In the summer of 2021, I taught a class of 21 students. One student reported missed class dates due to side effects from the Moderna vaccine that the student received. While absent, this student shared the following details with me: “I got the second shot of the Covid vaccine yesterday, and I’m not feeling good. I haven’t slept because I got a terrible fever, and I feel so tired that I can’t even walk. I’m sorry.”

In the fall 2021 semester, I taught four classes with a total of 65 students by the end of the semester. One student missed classes and complained it was due to side effects from the vaccine, which included significant respiratory issues. A second student who missed multiple class days also shared side effects from a COVID-19 vaccine.

During the spring 2022 semester, I taught two classes with a total of 36 students. One student reported health impacts resulting from being vaccinated that would cause him to miss class dates. This was Dylan, and you are aware of his story.

In summary, over the last year, with semesters extending from spring 2021 through spring 2022, I taught 187 students. Among those 187 students, 7 students reported suffering negative side effects due to the vaccine, which caused them to miss class days; this equates to about 1 in 26 students. Among the 187 students, 3 students had serious health effects that resulted from the vaccine, or 1 in 62 students; 2 out of those 3 students reported having suffered myocarditis, or 1 in 94.

It has been commonly reported that the COVID-19 vaccine is safe, negative side effects are uncommon, and serious health risks, such as the development of myocarditis, are rare. In the case of my students over the past year, at least 4 percent reported having incurred negative side effects from the vaccine, leading to class absences; 2 percent reported having experienced serious health complications resulting from the vaccine with greater class absences; and among those who experienced serious health complications, 1 percent reported having myocarditis.

Not all students who incurred ill effects from the vaccine may have reported this information to me. These numbers reflect only the students who reported ill effects that resulted from taking the vaccine.

In Comparison

Overall, more students missed class sessions due to contracting COVID-19 than students who had adverse reactions after getting the COVID-19 vaccine. Therefore, one may reason that choosing to be vaccinated in order to stop, or at least, reduce the time of illness from COVID-19, makes the most sense. I witnessed the disturbing impacts that both the coronavirus as well as the COVID-19 vaccine left on my students. By comparison, I have never seen among students who contracted coronavirus the same degree of health crisis faced by students who had very negative reactions to the COVID-19 vaccine.

Dylan has repeatedly told me, and is adamant about sharing his point: “I am still not 100 percent, and that all of this damage I have from the vaccine isn’t fair to other people [who don’t know the risks].”

Among all of my students, those who contracted the coronavirus recovered without sustaining significant long-term health problems. Yet, during the same period, I have witnessed more enduring health repercussions with vaccinated students. In 20+ years of teaching students in higher education, I have never had a year like this past year, in which a particular shot, vaccine, or drug, has resulted in the number of health issues and missed class dates by students as has been caused by the COVID-19 vaccine. Prior to the COVID-19 vaccine, I’m not aware of any student missing class dates as a result of an adverse reaction to medicine.

A Duty of Care

To be fair, most of my students who took the COVID-19 vaccine reported little to no side effects, to date, as a result. Even so, students should have accurate information that there are potential side effects that may occur, whether in the short-term or long-term, with the COVID-19 vaccine. My students were ignorant of this fact, and colleges and universities, including my own, could provide a more balanced presentation of information. At present, pressures placed on unvaccinated students to vaccinate remain high at many institutions of higher education, and pressure for vaccinated students to get boosted continues.

My college expects students attending face-to-face classes or using on-campus student support services to be fully vaccinated for COVID-19 or to request a medical or religious exception. Those with approved medical or religious exceptions are expected to do weekly COVID-19 testing. The unmistakable message is that the college strongly recommends that all students get vaccinated and boosted for the health and safety of the community.

Our college officials have good intentions: to provide a “duty of care” to protect our students. They should be aware that there are other students, on the opposite side of the spectrum, who are also in need of college officials’ protection. A major motivation for this article is to make college officials, who may not be, aware that serious health and attendance issues have followed students as a result of receiving the COVID-19 vaccine. The numbers for my student population show a significant impact. In particular, for colleges and universities with policies that require or strongly advocate for students to receive the COVID-19 vaccination prior to coming on campus or engaging with in-person classes, there should be accompanying messaging, or disclosure, that negative side effects may result from the COVID-19 vaccine.

My students believed that there were zero risks involved with getting the vaccine. For a few, like Dylan, an uninformed decision left him with unintended, lasting consequences. For others, the decision to get a COVID-19 vaccine may be the proper medical choice. One must weigh his or her own risk-to-benefit ratio. In an institution of higher education, shouldn’t one expect balanced, informed messaging to give students basic awareness to make informed decisions? If college and university officials who advocate for all students to be vaccinated couple their messaging with a disclosure of the risks involved, better-informed decisions would be more likely to occur.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

Greg Malveaux


Dr. Gregory F. Malveaux is an English professor at Montgomery College, and is co-Chairperson of the Maryland Community College International Education Consortium, and serves on the board for Protect Students Abroad.

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