Students have to wait to receive their doses of the COVID-19 vaccine while faculty and staff could receive the vaccine in the coming weeks as part of phases two and three of the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services vaccination plan: “You Have a Spot. Take Your Shot.”
While Jeff Stein, chair of the Ready & Resilient committee, said the university hopes to be able to administer the vaccine on campus but is not currently approved to do so. In Alamance County, Cone Health and the Alamance County Health Department are two vaccine providers.
The state of North Carolina allocates vaccines to providers based on their capacity to store and handle the vaccine and their ability to reach prioritized populations. Due to the limited quantity of vaccines, very few providers have access to doses, but as vaccines become more widely available, they will be at clinics, pharmacies and vaccination events in communities, according to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services.
University physician and member of the Ready & Resilient committee Ginette Archinal said that getting approval to become a vaccine site is a process with a lot of moving parts. Not only does the university have to have the ability to store vaccine doses, but there also have to be enough people to distribute the vaccine, and any distribution site must have the ability to record the data from the vaccinations. Archinal said the university plans to “have everything in place” should the opportunity arise.
When students, faculty and staff, will be able to receive the vaccine is unclear, Archinal said. The timeline depends heavily on how many doses are available.
For example, as of Jan. 19, faculty and staff members who are over the age of 65 may be able to receive the vaccine in phase two, whereas a faculty or staff member who is younger than 65 years old would receive the vaccine in phase three, even though both are deemed essential frontline workers by the CDC. However, due to limited supplies of the vaccine, Alamance County is only vaccinating people who are 75 years and older.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines frontline essential workers as first responders, education and childcare professionals, workers in manufacturing industries, corrections officers, public transit workers, grocery stores employees, food and agriculture workers and U.S. Postal Service employees.
“Currently in Alamance County, they’re trying to do the 75-year-olds and over, and they can’t accommodate that; they don’t have enough. It really all goes down to supply and demand,” Archinal said. “You’ve got to have enough vaccine[s]. You have to have enough people to give the vaccine. And those are things that are beyond … Elon’s control.”
In a previous version of North Carolina’s vaccination plan, there was a provision for K-12 and college students to receive the vaccine however, in the most recent update, that provision was removed. Stein said with the recent changes with the plan, there is some confusion as to who will be in each group, but the university hopes to receive clarification on the plan as it pertains to Elon by next week.
The university is also exploring what they can do to make sure students are not unable to receive the second dose, whether due to travel or any other obstacle, Stein said.
Elon students from outside of North Carolina have the potential of receiving their first dose in North Carolina and their second dose in their home state, depending on when vaccines become available to students. For those receiving the Pfizer vaccine, the second dose is administered 21 days after the first, according to the CDCl. For the Moderna vaccine, the time between doses is 28 days.
The way the vaccine rollout is being done is to ensure people at the highest risk of serious illness are prioritized, as they are the most likely to need to be hospitalized if they were to contract COVID-19.
“I know that there’s a lot of frustration that people can’t get the vaccine they wanted, but there’s a reason it’s being phased in,” Archinal said. “At the moment, we don’t have enough hospital beds. The goal is keeping people out of hospital, not allowing people to go to parties.”
According to the NCDHHS COVID-19 dashboard, 4,872 people have already received their first dose of the vaccine and 478 people have completed the vaccine series in Alamance County. In North Carolina overall, 238,344 people have received their first dose, and there are 44,271 people who have completed the vaccine series.
North Carolina received nearly 85,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine when it was first made available the week of Dec. 14, followed by over 175,000 doses of Moderna’s vaccine. Through the end of January, the state expects to get 60,000 weekly doses of each vaccine. The amount of vaccines each state receives from the federal government is based on the state’s population of people 18 years and older.
Even though Archinal received both doses of the Pfizer vaccine as part of phase 1a, she said her habits will not change. While the vaccine can be helpful for the patient in terms of lessening symptoms, there is no guarantee someone who received the vaccine cannot pass on COVID-19 to others, which is why Archinal said she will continue to wash her hands frequently, wear a mask and remain physically distanced from others.
“There’s a lot we don’t know still. We’re not sure how long the immunity lasts,” Archinal said. “We also know that the vaccine, like all vaccines, is not 100% effective. But we know, just like any other vaccine, that if I get COVID, having had both versions of the vaccine, I’m at much less risk of ending up in hospital and getting ill.”
Because the vaccine is not yet widely available for all students, faculty and staff, the university has not made a final decision as to whether or not they will require the vaccine in the future.
The university did require students to receive the flu vaccine before returning to campus for winter term, however Stein said whether or not the COVID-19 vaccine will be required is a “question that remains unanswered.”
“There are complications here because this is an emergency use authorization by the FDA that impacts whether you can require it,” Stein said. “What we can say that is as much of an answer as it is a non-answer is that we want as many students, faculty and staff as possible to get the vaccine.”