Last September, Dr. Manuel Espinoza, Associate Professor at the School of Education & Human Development, at a routine doctor’s appointment at the CU Anschutz Medical Campus. In a follow-up email, he received an invitation to participate in a Moderna vaccine study. He read it carefully and thought yes.
Why? Because he wants to see the heart and soul of CU Denver – its students, faculties, and staff – return to campus this fall. And he believes in science. Scientists who work in science aren’t just abstract concepts, he said. They are his colleagues who conduct critical research to make the world a better and safer place.
Therefore, Espinoza contacted the study’s lead investigator, Dr. Thomas Campbell, who then called Espinoza personally for information about the upcoming process and to answer questions. Ten days later, Espinoza received his first dose of the Moderna vaccine or a placebo.
For the first time in a long time, he felt a sense of power.
“The pandemic made everyone feel very powerless every day. That much wasn’t in our hands, ”said Espinoza. “To help develop a vaccine, even a tiny bit – I know I was one of the thousands, but I was happy to be one of the thousands.”
“A university can have a soul”
Espinoza has been with CU Denver for 15 years. In addition to teaching, he runs the Right2Learn Dignity Lab and studies dignity in education alongside his students.
He remembers life before the pandemic. Hearing the laughter of his colleague in the office next door. His students work together in class and raise their hands to ask questions. The feeling of being on the Auraria campus in spring, when the flowers and trees come to life and the sun sets on the skyline of the neighboring city. His students stop by during his office hours to discuss coursework or their personal lives. Having ice cream with a group of students after class to simply talk about life.
“There is no substitute for feeling in the same room as our students, asking questions, getting a sense of when they are fighting or when they are excited about something,” said Espinoza. “A university can have a soul, and when we’re in close proximity we can build those bonds.”
When the world practically came to a standstill in the face of a global pandemic, CU Denver announced that courses would be switched to remote and online. Faculty members like Espinoza quickly switched gears and adapted to virtual teaching and the new technology that came with it. Now, more than a year later, Espinoza is finding that the distance learning environment is putting a strain on his students, he said.
“I generally see them tired and worry about our young people, especially the undergraduate students,” Espinoza said, adding, “This semester, I’ve been more of a consultant than a professor at times. I had several calls to Zoom when my students said to me, “I can’t do anything.” I tell them the only thing that matters is your life, we’ll find out the rest. “
The way to do this, Espinoza said, is to be together again in person. And for this to happen, members of the CU Denver community must be vaccinated.
“Our university works on trust”
During the first five months of the Moderna process, Espinoza made routine trips to the Anschutz Medical Campus to have blood drawn and answer questions about his progress. The nurses’ positive and playful spirits, despite working on the front lines of a devastating pandemic, surprised Espinoza.
Five months later, Espinoza received news that he had received the placebo vaccine. “It hurt my arm a lot more than the first dose,” he joked. “I had all these thoughts about what was happening to my body and it was nothing!”
Soon after, he received his first dose of the Moderna vaccine. The shot was quick and barely noticeable, he said, but his arm felt tender for a few hours. He received his second shot three weeks later, which left him tired and flu-like for about 12 hours. “They tell you, and it is important to know, that you are not sick. It’s just your bodybuilding immunity. It’s a good thing, ”said Espinoza.
The suffering was minimal compared to the effects on the health and wellbeing of his community: his mother, brother, uncle, youngest daughter, whom he hadn’t seen in over a year because she lived in California, his Friends, his colleagues and his beloved students. Now fully vaccinated, Espinoza walks around with more confidence and less fear, knowing that he has done his part in ending the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I’m still very cautious because we don’t have the full vaccination rate, but it allows me to move around and see some people,” Espinoza said. “It allows me to enjoy the sun and sit on a terrace in a restaurant and feel safe.”
Espinoza, who is still participating in the study while researchers continue to study the effects of the vaccine, encourages all members of the CU Denver community to trust science and get the vaccine.
“There are reasons to trust and there are reasons to be careful, but you can’t refuse science when it’s already working,” Espinoza said. “All of this works on trust. Science works on trust. Our university works on trust. “