Looking Ahead: Swarthmore’s Vaccine Rollout and Plans for the Fall Semester

Vials of the Moderna COVID19 vaccine wait to be given to campus community members. Taken on the campus of Swarthmore College in Swarthmore, Pa on Tuesday, April ,20, 2021. (Photo by Martin Tomlinson ’23)

Swarthmore’s two latest vaccine clinics on April 9 and 20 came amid a massive COVID-19 vaccine rollout nationwide. Hosted by Worth Health and Wellness Center in collaboration with Rite Aid pharmacy, the clinics mark an important step in returning to a fully in-person, residential environment in the fall.

The April 9 clinic offered 250 appointments and filled quickly. It was open to individuals in groups one and two, which, under the college’s vaccine prioritization plan, included on-campus employees, staff, and faculty, in addition to on-campus residential students. The April 20 clinic offered 1,500 appointments and was open to groups three and four of the prioritization plan, including remote students and faculty. 

In an email to The Phoenix, Vice President for Communications Andy Hirsch characterized the clinics as  very successful. With the help of the Worth Health and Wellness Center, in addition to the nearly 60 faculty and staff volunteers, the college distributed a total of 750 vaccines to students, faculty, and staff. Of the 1,500 vaccine appointments offered on April 20, only 500 were filled. No vaccines were wasted, as the college accounted for the number of appointments filled. 

“The fact that only 500 of the 1,500 available appointments were taken during this most recent clinic seems like a good indicator that vaccine availability has opened up and folks are able to more easily access it elsewhere,” said Hirsch. 

At this time, the college does not plan on hosting additional clinics, Hirsch wrote. 

Looking ahead to the Fall semester, Vice President for Student Affairs Jim Terhune explained that students will be required to have a COVID-19 vaccine prior to arriving on campus in the Fall, as there will be no remote enrollment opportunity for students. 

“In compliance with the Pennsylvania Departments of Health and Education, and given the unique public health implications of living and studying in our residential college setting, we see requiring the COVID-19 vaccine as being consistent with the longstanding requirement for students to be vaccinated against a number of highly contagious and potentially dangerous diseases such as measles, mumps and meningitis. Just like with other vaccines, we will have a waiver process in place for individuals who cannot receive the vaccine for medical or religious reasons,” Terhune wrote.

In the meantime, Terhune explained that the college encourages students to receive the COVID-19 vaccine prior to returning to campus in the Fall. For students who are unable to receive the vaccine prior to move in, the college will provide vaccines to accommodate. 

Students receiving vaccines off campus were instructed to fill out an Emergency Travel Request form before leaving campus. Additionally, the Worth Health Center sent an email to students on March 24 outlining instructions for fully vaccinated students on how to upload CDC vaccination card documentation to the health portal. 

Students and staff who received their first dose at the April 9 campus clinic are scheduled to receive their second dose on May 7, and those who received their first dose at the April 20 clinic will receive their second dose on May 18. 

Because the scheduling of the May 18 clinic coincides with finals, the Provost’s Office and Student Affairs Division consulted with the Interim Registrar to ensure that all students whose finals were originally scheduled for May 19 would be rescheduled to accommodate for potential side effects that may arise from receiving the second dose of the Moderna vaccine, which has been reported to bring more significant side effects. Further information on side effects was sent out in an email from Worth Health Center on April 8.

In an interview with The Phoenix, Daniel Khazanov ʼ24 explained that on April 20, he received an email from the Registrar informing him that his computer science final exam originally scheduled for May 19 was moved one week earlier.

“When I found out about the rescheduling, I was a little annoyed but overall not too bothered because I [realized that] I could spend finals week focusing on my other finals. While [moving the exam a week earlier] spreads out our finals, it also gives us less time to prepare,” Khazanov explained. 

In addition, the exam rescheduling also conflicts with move out. Cedric Christensen ʼ24 explained in an interview with The Phoenix that he had planned to move out before finals, and because his computer science final exam was moved, it conflicted with his scheduled move out date.

“[It was] unfortunate that [my exam] was moved because I had outlined plans with my family [for move out], and I had also scheduled a second dose vaccine appointment out of state. That made it more challenging [for me] but was still pretty manageable to deal with.”

Despite frustrations over rescheduling, many students were grateful nonetheless for the opportunity to receive their vaccines on campus. 

In an interview with The Phoenix, Josie Thrasher ’21 explained that she decided to receive the vaccine dose during the second on-campus clinic because it was more convenient than scheduling one elsewhere. 

“[Receiving the vaccine on campus] just seemed easier to me, since I wouldn’t have to drive off campus anywhere and it wouldn’t be an issue scheduling my second dose if I just did it through the Swarthmore clinics,” said Thrasher. 

In addition to the convenience of receiving the vaccine on campus, the procedure during the clinics ran smoothly and efficiently, explained Thrasher. 

“[I was] shepherded along a couple of different check-in tables for checking my temperature, paperwork, and insurance. Then I went into the gym and [volunteers] directed me to a table with a pharmacist. I think I only sat in the chair for all of 30 seconds for her to actually give me the vaccine. It was very efficient … I was in and out in about twenty minutes including the [fifteen minute] observation period,” she said. 

In an interview with The Phoenix, Abel Zeng ’23 voiced appreciation for the campus offering a second clinic and emphasized the importance for vaccinating the campus community.

“If I didn’t get vaccinated [at the campus clinic], it would have been harder for me to find an appointment at home. It’s important to make sure everyone is vaccinated so that we can be safer when students and staff come back in the fall,” Zeng said. 

Despite scheduling conflicts with final exams and students’ move-out appointments, Swarthmore’s two successful vaccine clinics lay the groundwork for an in-person Fall semester. 

Photo courtesy of Martin Tomlinson for The Phoenix.

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