Saint Leo University today (April 6) held the first of two COVID-19 vaccine clinics planned for this week, aimed at vaccinating its students. Saint Leo community members ages 18 and older from across the state of Florida—including students and their families, faculty, staff, and alumni—were eligible to receive the vaccine at the university's residential campus in Pasco County.

Thanks to the university's partnership with the Florida Department of Health-Pasco County, the Saint Leo University Student Health Center is able to administer the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine, which consists of two shots given 28 days apart. Tuesday's vaccine clinic took place from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. with about 400 appointments and doses available. The second student vaccine clinic is scheduled for 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., Thursday, April 8, and there are about 300 doses that will be distributed. The vaccine is given by appointment-only.

Saint Leo officials focused on "family" by inviting students and members of their household to be vaccinated on campus at one of this week's clinics. "Protect the Pride" is the theme for the university's response to COVID-19 as all members of the Saint Leo community strive to keep the Lions safe from the novel coronavirus.

"We wanted to get the students vaccinated before they leave for the summer so they can come back in the fall and have a 'new normal,'" said University President Jeffrey Senese. "And we invited their families, too. We've had hybrid classes this year, and students really want in-person classes in the fall. They want to hang out, go to Benedict's Coffeehouse, attend sporting events, just do the things that college students do. This will help protect each other and our loved ones."

Many college students had to wait for the vaccine, while it was distributed to older age groups, but Florida Governor Ron DeSantis lowered the age for eligibility to 18 beginning April 5. While Saint Leo University is not requiring students or employees to be vaccinated, officials are encouraging them to take advantage of the clinics to do so.

"It's important to encourage everyone to get vaccinated and try to get back to normal," said graduate student Jack Spera, a men's lacrosse player. COVID-19 cut his senior season short in 2020, and the job he had obtained disappeared because of the virus. The NCAA extended players' eligibility because of COVID's effects on the season, and Spera received a scholarship to use toward his master's degree.

Back home in Long Island, NY, most of his family have received at least one dose of the vaccine. Spera hopes to remain in the Tampa area after he earns his MBA and be employed in sales or management, so having the vaccine will help.

Hannah Burrows, a sophomore, said getting the vaccine means it will be easier for her to travel. She is from the Bahamas, and the vaccine is just starting to become available there, she said. The vaccine will allow her to visit with family and return to Saint Leo. "I'm protecting myself and my family from it," Burrows said about COVID-19. 

Saint Leo senior Dana Van Deusen said getting the vaccine was the right thing to do because, as a student, she is around so many others. She wants to be able to protect her friends and family and to be able to be able to go out safely this summer.

To assist the community, Saint Leo University has provided its facilities as a distribution site for the DOH-Pasco since January 13, and more than 25,000 doses have been distributed to residents of Pasco County as well as neighboring counties.