Colleges Turn Arenas to Mass Vaccination Sites for Students

U.S. colleges are laying plans to roll out Covid vaccinations to thousands of students, faculty and staff, turning large spaces like stadiums and auditoriums into inoculation centers as the academy yearns for a return to normality.

So far, they’ve been limited by a lack of supply for a largely young and healthy demographic. That’s changing rapidly as states try to meet President Joe Biden’s May 1 deadline for all adults to be eligible. About half of 296 higher education institutions polled are planning mass vaccination clinics by June, according to a continuing survey by the American College Health Association.

“Schools have been preparing for months now,” said Anita Barkin, co-chair of the group’s Covid-19 task force. “Many are just waiting for the opportunity.”

Colleges Turn Arenas to Mass Vaccination Sites for Students

Some have already begun. Mississippi State University is making shots available on its Starkville campus at a drive-thru in the parking lot of the student health center, after Governor Tate Reeves said all adults would qualify. The school began administering vaccines Tuesday, initially for faculty and staff. Later shipments will be available for those over 18, including students.

Along with nursing homes and prisons, colleges typically have dense forms of communal living in areas where Covid-19 has thrived. This year, some schools offered intensive virus testing and dorms with fewer students to make them more socially distant. Others have asked students to not come to campus at all.

Vaccinations are a first step toward a normal autumn, with in-person classes and dorm living. They will help students resume their disjointed educations and help colleges regain their financial footing after a stretch of lost revenue and declining enrollment. Schools rely on revenue that comes from dorms, dining halls and summer activities on campus that schools are hoping to ramp up this year.

At least 26 states have announced they are opening vaccine eligibility to adults broadly, either immediately or through early May, according to a count by the Kaiser Family Foundation. One complication for colleges is that states will likely open access to younger adults around semesters’ end, and the two-dose Covid vaccines require a few weeks between shots.

Big Shots

Michigan State University in East Lansing has been approved as a vaccine provider and is waiting for allocations from the state, which will lower eligibility to 16 by early April. “It will allow us to have a more typical fall semester, which we are planning for right now 75% in-person classes,” said Dan Olsen, a spokesman.

The school, which has almost 40,000 undergraduates, can vaccinate as many as 120 people an hour and 2,000 a day, and has the ability to begin within 48 hours of receiving doses, he said.

Colleges Turn Arenas to Mass Vaccination Sites for Students

The University of Michigan’s health system is vaccinating those who qualify in its storied football stadium, inside on two floors of the club-level seating. The system can administer about 12,000 doses a week, with the ability to ramp up to 24,000. The university asked students not to return to campus this semester.

Ohio’s governor, Michael DeWine, announced Tuesday the state is lowering its vaccination age to 16 by the end of March. Ohio State University in Columbus is planning for expanded distribution for students, staff and faculty, mostly at the hockey and basketball arena, where about 100,000 people are projected to receive shots by Friday.

Rushing In

The need is urgent. Schools are still seeing outbreaks, with Duke University last weekend ordering undergrads to quarantine for a week after fraternity events spurred a Covid-19 outbreak. The school’s surge in cases is its largest one-week number of positive tests and quarantines since the start of the pandemic.

Because of the end-of-semester time crunch, the ACHA wants access to Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine because it’s one dose and easier to store, Barkin said. That decision will be left to individual states, which determine how the shots are apportioned.

Getting the J&J shot would allow colleges to play a vital public-health role, said David Rubin, a physician and director of PolicyLab at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, which has been monitoring the spread of Covid-19.

“We should be planning now to try to put shots in arms before the kids leave their college campuses -- let the colleges do it,” he said. “It’s just one shot and ‘Go home and have a nice summer.’”

The ACHA also recently received a $2 million grant from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to promote vaccine confidence. Some 23% of students expressed hesitancy about getting the shots in a survey last fall, according to Barkin.

On Thursday, North Carolina A&T State University started vaccinating athletes and marching band members, student workers and employees who represent the university, said Robert Doolittle, a physician and medical director of the Greensboro school’s student health center. The shots will be given in the Alumni Foundation Event Center, an on-campus space that can accommodate 700 people per day.

“Vaccine hesitancy has been much less of a problem than we anticipated,” Doolittle said. “Instead, access to the vaccine has been the critical issue.”

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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