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International students benefit at first Gardner-Webb University vaccine clinic

Some international students said they would've been forced to wait almost a year before being eligible in their home countries.

BOILING SPRINGS, N.C. — About 350 Gardner-Webb University students signed up for COVID-19 vaccine appointments at its Boiling Springs campus Wednesday afternoon.

The clinic, which the university organized with Cleveland County Public Health, was the first opportunity for students to get the vaccine.

Joao Espinheira is a senior soccer player from Brazil, and he said he wouldn't have been able to get the vaccine in his home country until December 2021, at the earliest.

"Things are a bit hard there and to get a chance to take this vaccine as early as April is really important for us to keep our lives going," Espinheira said. "Hopefully soon, [my family are] all going to be vaccinated, and we're going to move on." 

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Louise Schmidtgen is a pole-vaulter for the school's track and field team.

She's half-German and half-South African, and she too wouldn't have been eligible to get the vaccine in either country.

She said her sister, who studies medicine in South Africa and works with COVID-19 patients, still hasn't been able to get her vaccine.

"So I'm very happy today because I'll be able to travel home," Schmidtgen said. "The [travel] restrictions are probably going to get harder."

DeShay Oliver, Cleveland County Public Health's deputy director, expected demand for the vaccine will spike among young people.

She said college students are at increased risk for the virus because many live in dorms and gather in large social groups.

"The more convenient you make it to access the vaccine, the more likely people are to take advantage of that," Oliver said. "So we felt like it was really important to bring it to campus to offer it to those students."

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Gardner-Webb University's president, Dr. William Downs, said the university will encourage, but not require students to get vaccines for the fall semester.

"We anticipate being back to pre-COVID normality when we start in August here," Dr. Downs said.

In addition to students, about 450 other members of the community got COVID-19 vaccines at Wednesday's clinic. 

Have a relative or friend in another state and want to know when they can get vaccinated? Visit NBC News' Plan Your Vaccine site to find out about each state's vaccine rollout plan.