Conquering COVID: College students are receiving vaccines

With time of the essence - as the end of semester nears and the fall semester looms - institutions are doing their part in trying to get their populations vaccinated.
By: | April 8, 2021
St. Leo University graduate student and lacrosse player Jack Spera receives the first dose of the Moderna vaccine on campus. (Photo courtesy of St. Leo University)

The race is on.

College students have begun lining up for – and in some cases receiving – their first doses of COVID-19 vaccines. With nearly 20 million young adults enrolled across the United States, there is much work to be done over the next few months.

The goal: get as many of them vaccinated as soon as possible so campuses can fully reopen without hesitation in the fall. This week, many of those institutions are seeing positive steps and even helping in the effort.

St. Leo University is one of several in Central Florida giving the first doses to students after the state recently lowered its vaccine age limit to include college students. Today, the university’s Student Health Center is holding the second of two clinics – with 300 Moderna doses available – after it helped administer 400 on Tuesday. Those vaccines not only are going to students but family members, as well.

“We wanted to get the students vaccinated before they leave for the summer so they can come back in the fall and have a ‘new normal,’ ” University President Jeffrey Senese said. “We’ve had hybrid classes this year, and students really want in-person classes in the fall. They want to hang out, attend sporting events, just do the things that college students do. This will help protect each other and our loved ones.”

Those receiving first doses now will need to get their second doses in 28 days. The last day of classes is April 27.

Graduate student Jack Spera was one of the first on the St. Leo campus to receive the vaccine and had a message for others in his age group who are considering their options.

“It’s important to encourage everyone to get vaccinated and try to get back to normal,” he said.

Across the state, institutions are feverishly rolling out their own clinics for students, including Rollins College in Winter Park, the University of Central Florida in Orlando and Florida State University. UCF and FSU are both delivering Pfizer doses, efforting to get them to college student populations before opening up pools to high school students 16-and-over who have become eligible, too.

Meanwhile, 12,000 students from more than 20 colleges and universities – including heavyweights North Carolina-Chapel Hill, Northwestern, Texas A&M, the University of Florida, University of Washington and University of Kentucky – are being vetted for the Prevent COVID U trial of the Moderna vaccine by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases’ COVID-19 Prevention Network to determine the effeciacy of the vaccine against viral spread.  There is strong incentive for students on the fence to take part, namely sizeable stipends.

But will all of these efforts get colleges and universities to that tipping point of feeling completely safe in the fall? Will enough students get vaccinated?

A student at Stetson University in Florida receives a dose of the COVID vaccine. About 500 doses were dispensed on Wednesday (Photo courtesy of Stetson University)

Requirements and more

Some colleges aren’t so sure. So, they are attempting to mandate their populations be vaccinated (while considering exemptions).

Rutgers University was the first to require COVID vaccine shots for a return in the fall, and several others recently jumped on board, including the University of Notre Dame, Brown University, Northeastern University, Fort Lewis College, Cornell University, Ithaca College, Nova Southeastern University, Roger Williams University and St. Edwards University.

“The safety of the University and local communities is always our highest priority,” Rev John Jenkins, Notre Dame’s President said in a statement. “Requiring students to be vaccinated for COVID-19 is a new and important addition to our health policies, one that we believe will enhance public health at Notre Dame and in our community, while also contributing to our ability to return to a more vibrant campus environment.”

Many colleges like St. Leo aren’t going that far, simply encouraging students to have them done.

Michigan State University isn’t either, but has opened up a vaccination center on campus just for students in an effort to get as many doses as possible dispensed before the close of the academic year. Starting tomorrow, teams from its Health and Human Services Department and county health department will be giving students the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

“The largest source of spread of the virus continues to be among those aged 18-29, so they are a top priority, especially as MSU students may be leaving this community soon and going to other areas of the state and country,” Ingham County Health Officer Linda Vail told the university. “Providing a single-dose vaccine means we can get thousands of students vaccinated before the semester ends.”

After conducting their own survey of students, Michigan State officials note that more than 70% are planning to get vaccinated. About 12% are gunshy about potential side effects. Another 7.5% said they won’t get it.

Providing resources for students

Michigan State’s numbers are encouraging for institutions weighing whether to mandate or encourage students to be vaccinated. In states with high COVID positive rates, that is important. Even in states and areas where numbers are low and protocols are loosening, university leaders still are urging students to be vaccinated. The more that are, the more their campuses can look similar to the way they did in fall of 2019 and not fall 2020.

To that end, universities across the country are doing their best to provide robust vaccine sites, appointments and doses to students before they break for the summer.

  • Stony Brook University in New York opened up its Student Union to receive 1,400 students on Tuesday for the Moderna vaccine. They will receive dose No. 2 on May 4.
  • Butler University in Indiana has set up a pair of dates for doses to be administered – the first started yesterday and runs through Friday and the second will be on May 4-6. That second date is key – it comes right after Finals Week while students are still on campus.
  • Next door in Ohio, Kent State University started four consecutive days of Johnson & Johnson vaccines today for students, hoping to dispense 5,000 doses.

On Twitter, Gov. Mike DeWine, noted the importance of getting this done now: “Although young people are less likely to get sick from COVID, the evidence shows that young people are significant carriers – so, this is also a strategic move to vaccinate students before they scatter throughout the state and country when classes end in May.”