College campuses across the nation have been put on hold by the COVID-19 pandemic. Not only is the financial stability of the U.S. higher education system at risk, but so are the lives of students, faculty and staff — with or without pre-existing conditions. Given that prison inmates have been accorded priority by many states for receiving vaccinations because of their large population in contained quarters, questions have circulated about the relative priority of other large, fairly sequestered communities like colleges and universities. Particularly given that students will be returning home with the possibility of carrying the virus and transmitting it through their home communities, it seems like this question deserves attention.
Thankfully, with Phase Two of the vaccination rollout schedule approaching, campus residents may be next in line for vaccination. Dr. Anthony Fauci has recently announced that the general public will be eligible for the vaccine between late May and early June, meaning that students could be home before vaccines become available.
It is not too audacious to anticipate some sort of developed vaccination plan for the University in the near future; some universities have already taken the initiative to distribute vaccinations on their campuses. As reported by Inside Higher Ed, Auburn University recently had to suspend vaccinations after they exhausted their allotted supply. Auburn reports that the university had taken a “phased approach” to distribute vaccines according to the quantity available. The collegiate news website BestColleges notes that Northeastern University has also been participating in distributing vaccines according to CDC phases, and is currently in Phase One – vaccinating essential workers, the elderly, healthcare personnel, and the immunocompromised.
Other colleges are hoping to become vaccination centers as well. As reported in the Philadelphia Inquirer two weeks ago, Ursinus College has applied to administer the vaccine on its campus, an undertaking which would enable the university to providing staff and locations for administration. According to its official news organ, Penn State University is also applying to provide distribution of the vaccine – as well as purchasing vaccine freezer storage, vetting campus locations for storing and administering the vaccine and preparing technology support for registration and management of the entire process. Can a small liberal arts college like the University consider taking such steps? Attempts by The Bucknellian to contact the administration have so far proved inconclusive, with no official comment made in response.
With an eye to the widespread, completely unsubstantiated suspicion about the vaccine’s efficacy and potential adverse side effects, it remains a compelling question about if and how the University will immunize its campus against the coronavirus pandemic. Will it plan to vaccinate the student and faculty population and facilitate wider vaccine distribution through a cost-effective, convenient implementation process on campus?
Finally, questions remain about whether universities should (or legally could) make vaccinations a mandatory requirement for their student and faculty populations. Pew Research Center polls reveal that Americans ages 18-29 are the group least likely to opt for vaccination, in part because of the aforementioned misinformation. BestColleges reports that Harvard University is among the higher education institutions exploring whether they can legally require mandatory vaccinations.
Stay tuned as The Bucknellian continues to monitor these issues.