The challenge of getting college staff and students the COVID-19 vaccine

With vaccines from Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech approved for emergency use in December, questions still remain on when college staff and students will be able to receive them.

Covid-19 vaccine allocation plan

In collaboration with the National Academy of Sciences, the CDC has enacted an allocation plan that provides highest priority to healthcare workers and first responders. The plan prioritizes elderly adults in congregate living settings and those of all ages with underlying conditions that significantly increase their risk from COVID-19. Phase two of vaccination would include teachers and childcare workers, essential workers, those with underlying conditions that put them at moderate risk, those in homeless shelters, group homes, and detention facilities, and all those over 65. Phases three and four including the larger remaining population.

(Source: The final recommendations for allocating a COVID-19 vaccine from the National Academy of Sciences)

However, there is a concern with distribution logistics, as states and private institutions are not getting the support that Operation Warp Speed had promised. According to the CDC’s COVID Data Tracker, in early January, we were seeing less than one third of available vaccine doses being administered.

What does this mean for Colleges and Universities?

Although states have the option to include teachers and staff with phase one vaccine delivery, opinions vary by state. For instance, Indiana Gov. Mike DeWine included teachers and staff with front line workers to aid in reopening schools. While Florida Gov. Desantis says Florida teachers and school staff will not be prioritized for COVID-19 vaccine.

The pandemic has taken a toll on many but has been particularly challenging for students of all ages. Even Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, believes it is extremely important to get students back to school, and teachers should be at the front of the line for the vaccine.

Unfortunately, due to limited supply and most college student populations consisting of young and healthy individuals, governors have not made special accommodations for vaccinating them.

Considerations colleges and universities will need to address

In addition to supply, there are a few other factors that could complicate matters for colleges and universities, including whether they will need to play a role in distributing the vaccines and if they can legally make the coronavirus vaccine mandatory for all those returning to campus.

If schools are trying to get back to campus during the spring semester, there could be difficulties in getting students and staff their first and second doses of the vaccine. As students may end up getting their first dose in the state they attend college and need the follow-up dose a few weeks later in the state where they live, or vice versa.

If COVID-19 vaccines are available to colleges to distribute to students before they return home, it could be a logistical nightmare trying to ensure state immunization registries are updated and accessible to ensure correct vaccine administration.

Another difficulty is whether campuses can legally make the coronavirus vaccine mandatory for all on-campus residents. The decision is ultimately up to the state where the college or university is located. While most states require incoming students to prove they are up to date on certain vaccinations, exemptions may exist for students whose families oppose vaccinations for philosophical, religious, or medical reasons.

Another hurdle is whether students will get the vaccine once available, considering a November 2020 Pew research poll found that 45 percent of Americans between the ages 18-29 (a population that includes college students) weren’t comfortable getting the vaccine once available.

Though some may be skeptical about taking the vaccine because of the emergency approval or government skepticism, there is seemingly little to worry about for those in good health.

According to Wellfleet Chief Medical Officer Barrie Baker, “The general population should feel at ease with getting the vaccine.” Dr. Baker continued, “even though the vaccine was produced in about a tenth of standard time, it was produced with similar safety and efficacy standards we see in typical trials. The only people who should avoid the vaccine are those with a history of significant allergic reactions”

How much will the vaccine cost?

The vaccine will be free of charge to American’s who desire the vaccination in 2021. This is irrespective of which company made it or which provider is used to obtain it, regardless of in- or out-of-network. This is because one of the goals of the federal government’s procurement of the COVID-19 vaccines, was to eliminate an economic barrier to receiving one.

However, some facilities may charge an administrative fee for providing the vaccine. In these instances, Wellfleet will absorb those costs upfront or through reimbursement for student members.

As the pandemic subsides and COVID-19 vaccines become part of regular preventive care, there may be out of pocket costs. This will vary by provider, but they will likely follow the same guidelines as other preventative medications or vaccinations one may have – like coverage a plan would provide for the seasonal flu vaccine. Until further notice, Wellfleet will continue to absorb all costs, to prevent any student member from having out-of-pocket fees for the vaccine or it’s administration.

For more information on how Wellfleet is helping members and clients during the pandemic, view our CEO’s latest update.

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