By Mary Kate McGrath - January 11, 2021
In the United States, colleges and universities are looking to ensure enough students, faculty, and staff are vaccinated by next year to resume relatively normal operations. With nurses, doctors, other frontline workers and nursing-home residents first in line to receive the vaccine, it’s unclear when immunizations will occur on a level adequate to return to campus safely. In the meantime, colleges can be repurposed as vaccination sites to distribute vaccines to the broader public, and can eventually facilitate mass immunization by requiring or strongly encouraging vaccination among student populations.
Many public health experts are predicting that higher education institutions will play a large role in distributing coronavirus vaccinations, both to students, faculty, and staff, as well as public, according to Higher Ed Dive. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention issued an interim vaccine distribution guide for jurisdictions, citing the importance of public and private sector partnerships to facilitate mass immunization. The CDC encourages communities to use college campuses as immunization sites, setting up mobile clinics in unused facilities such as campus parking lots, arenas, or residence halls.
The CDC also recommends reaching out to college presidents to better reach “critical” populations amid vaccination efforts. The correlation between college populations with outbreaks and hotspot communities has been well documented throughout the pandemic. In October, American colleges or universities had reported more than 36,000 coronavirus cases, bringing the total campus infections to 88,000, as per the New York Times. Public health experts observed that college campuses are, as a category, are high-risk transmission sites similar to hospitals, nursing homes, and meatpacking plants have been.
The American College Health Association is already looking ahead to how college campuses can be repurposed as distribution sites and immunization can be prioritized for immunization. Anita Barkin, co-chair of the organization’s COVID-19 task force, cited large campus facilities such as football stadiums, gymnasiums, and stadiums as ideal locations to be transformed into vaccine distribution centers, with college health officials pitching into the effort. If a college or university is centrally-located in a jurisdiction, this strategy might prove especially useful.
College leaders will also play a key messaging role in vaccine distribution. While most college-age individuals are unlikely to be high on the vaccine-distribution list, these communities have contributed to spreading the virus. Many of the areas to experience spikes in cases in the early and mid-Fall were in college towns - a study published in September suggested that tens of thousands of COVID-19 cases could be linked to college or university campuses, according to Higher Ed Dive.
Public health officials suspect that many colleges will require students to get a coronavirus vaccine, along with enforcing other hygiene efforts such as mask-wearing, frequent hand washing, and social distancing until the public has been significantly inoculated. Meanwhile, students, faculty, and staff will likely be curious about vaccine availability or requirements before returning to campus in the fall. Administrators on campus will need to develop a comprehensive communication plan to reach students and staff about vaccine availability, mandatory vaccine requirements, or other public health measures on campus.
A coronavirus recovery solution can be a powerful tool for campus administrators looking to develop a vaccine distribution strategy. The tool can be used to reach students, faculty, and staff with targeted notifications about the vaccine efforts on campus. Administrators can keep community members updated about which facilities will be open to the public amid broader efforts to inoculate the general public. The app can also include updated student handbooks with information about vaccine expectations, ongoing public health requirements, or other relevant resources.
The system also has an SMS Opt-In feature, allowing members of the public to opt-in for relevant alerts about getting vaccinated on campus using a simple keyword. Administrators can set either one keyword per location or event, or use multiple keywords. College leaders can also use this tool to share information about vaccine availability, vaccination times, and any other concerns with individuals planning to be inoculated on-site.
Mary Kate is a content specialist and social media manager for the Rave Mobile Safety team. She writes about public safety for the state & local and education spheres.