On-Campus COVID-19 Vaccinations Spark Administrative and Student Reactions

On Friday, April 2, Swarthmore College announced a preliminary plan for COVID-19 vaccine distribution on campus. In a campus-wide email, Catherine Geddis, interim vice president for human resources, and Jim Terhune, vice president for student affairs, shared the “good news about vaccine availability and distribution on campus.” 

Friday, April 9 was the first COVID-19 vaccination clinic hosted on campus in partnership with Rite Aid. Conducted in Tarble Pavilion, an athletic facility, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., the clinic disbursed 250 doses of the Moderna vaccine, which requires two doses spaced four weeks apart and is authorized for individuals eighteen and older. 

These doses were available to all eligible residential students, faculty, and staff members that qualify under the state of Pennsylvania’s Phase 1B. The college has correlated individuals in Phase 1B to “Group 1” and “Group 2,” as well as other groups. Group 1 is defined as “Employees whose work requires them to be on campus, including staff in Athletics, EVS, Dining, Facilities, Maintenance, Office of Student Engagement, Public Safety, and other faculty and staff members who regularly come to campus and are part of our weekly testing protocol.” Group 2 consists of “students living in campus housing.”

The email correspondence also defines Group 3 as enrolled students studying remotely and living in Pennsylvania, Group 4 as faculty and staff members working remotely, and Group 5 as household members of faculty and staff members. These groups are not currently eligible for the vaccine clinic on April 9 due to the limited number of vaccines available. 

Terhune sent an email to individuals in Group 1 on Monday, April 5 at 9:30 a.m. with instructions on how to schedule an appointment for the first dose of the vaccine. Terhune sent out a similar email to qualifying members in Group 2 on Tuesday, April 6 at 12 p.m.

In the initial communication, the college emphasized that “[they] have no control over the number of vaccine doses [they’re] receiving.” Through the college’s partnership with Rite Aid, it can distribute vaccine doses as they are acquired. Geddis and Terhune state that the college will continue to adhere to Pennsylvania Department of Health guidelines as more information regarding additional vaccine clinics on campus becomes available.

Terhune announced a second on-campus vaccine clinic via email on April 6. 1,500 doses of the Moderna vaccine will be administered to individuals eighteen years or older on Tuesday, April 20.

The second vaccine clinic announcement also cited Pennsylvania’s broadening of vaccine eligibility requirements, effective April 19, 2021, stating that “all students, faculty, staff members, and household members of faculty and staff who are 18 or older will be eligible to receive the vaccine.” Vaccine prioritization will remain in accordance with the first email communication. 

Geddis and Terhune wrote that “given the number of doses available … we are confident that we will be able to offer the vaccine to all individuals in Groups 1 and 2, and many of the individuals in Groups 3 and 4.” 

In an email to The Phoenix on April 8, Vice President for Communications Andy Hirsch underscored the hard work taking place behind the scenes of the vaccination clinics.

“It is important to note the lengths to which a number of college staff have been going to try to secure doses of the vaccine for distribution to the campus community,” said Hirsch.

He credited staff members with lobbying local and state health officials and representatives, as well as calling pharmacies in hopes of securing doses of the vaccine for the Swarthmore community.

In response to the frustration community members expressed in regard to the limited dose availability of the April 9 clinic, Hirsch communicated that “[the college is] frustrated, too. The challenges around vaccine availability and distribution across Pennsylvania, and specifically in Delaware County, are well documented.”

Hirsch also reiterated that the college would have preferred to have the larger of the two clinics this week, but vaccine availability and guidance from the Pennsylvania DoH would not have made that possible. 

“[April 9th’s] clinic came together very quickly — and with almost no advanced warning — which forced us to react and adjust our plans on the fly,” said Hirsch.

Hirsch hopes individuals can show empathy and appreciation to the people who are working hard to keep everyone healthy and safe on-campus despite much of the frustration or disappointment felt within the Swarthmore community.

Student Thoughts

Students on campus also articulated some of their thoughts regarding the college’s current vaccination plan. 

Ben Drucker ’22 was immediately interested in the college’s vaccine plan and hoped that it would accelerate his path to receiving the COVID-19 vaccine as soon as possible. 

“I’m satisfied with the distribution plan […] It seems like the college is being proactive about vaccinating quickly,” said Drucker.

Despite his overall satisfaction, the initial communication from the college left Drucker with unanswered questions. He expressed confusion about whether residential students were considered part of Pennsylvania’s Phase 1B or Phase 2, and how many individuals from Group 1 and Group 2 would be vaccinated on April 9.

Drucker emailed Dean Terhune for further clarification. Terhune responded and stated that residential students fall into Phase 1B under Pennsylvania DoH guidelines. Inquiries from other Pennsylvania colleges such as WPSU at Penn State University, however, have derived a contradictory response from PA DoH Deputy Press Secretary Maggi Barton, who stated that students living in dorms do not qualify under Phase 1B unless they meet the requirements based on underlying health conditions.

The community communications acknowledged that some students have already been able to receive vaccines through alternative channels. Both email correspondences encourage students to continue to get vaccinated outside of the college, if possible.

Of those students already vaccinated, Olivia Marotte ’24 shared her journey toward receiving the COVID-19 vaccine off-campus. 

“I figured that if I was eligible as a resident of a congregate setting and could find a nearby drugstore that was willing to provide a dose, I should go ahead [and vaccinate],” said Marotte. 

Marotte filled out and submitted the college’s “Emergency Travel Form” prior to her trip to a South Philadelphia Walgreens location. Her request was approved by Nurse Holly Clarke, and listed precautions to take post-vaccination.

“I believe that if we find an opportunity to receive the COVID vaccine, we should take it,” said Marotte.

Other students commented on the college’s vaccination plan and its implications on the Swarthmore community and beyond.

Benelli Amosah ’24 reflected that the initial vaccine clinic’s goal of vaccinating Groups 1 and 2 with solely 250 doses was not feasibly attainable.

“I was still trying to be proactive in signing up for the vaccine clinic on April 9; however, [the college] chose to release the sign-up form at a very inconvenient time for a lot of students,” said Amosah.

Amosah was in class at noon on Tuesday, April 6, when the registration email was sent out to members of Group 2. When given the opportunity to check her email at approximately 12:10 p.m., she was already too late. Within about two minutes of the sign-up form’s release, all spots were filled. Reporters for The Phoenix observed the sign-up sheet following its release and reported approximately 105 students in Group 2 successfully signing up for the first clinic on April 9, with twenty students on a waitlist. 

In response to being encouraged to receive the vaccine off-campus, Amosah believed that Swarthmore students, who have access to weekly COVID-19 testing and reside in a “bubble” on campus, should not go into other communities that may need the vaccine even more.

“There are many poor, minority residents in Philadelphia that are also struggling to get vaccinated,” said Amosah. 

She concluded that waiting for the college’s free on-campus clinic was her best personal choice.

George Curtis ’21, one of the approximately 105 students fortunate enough to secure doses of the Moderna vaccine at the initial clinic on April 9, weighed in on his experience. 

“It was a mad scramble [to secure a dose]. I opened the SignUp Genius form probably less than two minutes after it went out, and it was already seemingly more than half full,” said Curtis. 

He also expressed that he has not received any information regarding vaccine registration priority being given to at-risk students.

“It seems like all on-campus [students] have been lumped together in one group regardless of health condition. I certainly hope the college earmarked doses for [students with underlying conditions], because … then the doses just ended up going to whoever happened to be looking at their email when the signup went out,” said Curtis.

With much ambiguity surrounding the initial clinic’s registration process, Curtis believed that there had to have been a more fair and objective way to distribute the first 250 doses.

After receiving his vaccination on April 9, Curtis described the first vaccination clinic as going just as planned. He received his dose within three minutes of arriving and left quickly. 

“[I have] a little soreness so far, but less than for other vaccines I’ve had in the past,” said Curtis.

The second vaccination clinic is scheduled for April 20. Students who receive their first doses at the clinic, however, must wait until May 18 for the second dose. Amosah expressed her disappointment over how this is inconvenient to residential students.

“We’re allowed to move out anytime after May 7, so I’m trying to get back home on a reasonable date, but the second vaccination clinic being so late in the semester makes things very difficult,” said Amosah.

In the end, students and administration agree that although the college’s vaccination plan is not without its flaws, it is a plan that will get a majority of the Swarthmore community vaccinated, which is the ultimate goal.

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