As of yesterday, the college is allowing students to sign up for on-campus COVID-19 vaccinations. The school will start administering the 1,000 available doses as early as next week with the help of local health networks.
And with cases on the rise since Monday, the vaccination efforts are well-timed.
Students will be offered the Johnson and Johnson vaccine through a partnership with St. Luke’s University Health Network. Vice President for Campus Life Annette Diorio wrote in an email that the Johnson and Johnson vaccine has been earmarked in Pennsylvania for educational use and affords the college two benefits: first, students can get fully vaccinated before heading home for the summer, and second, it eliminates the risk of students contracting the virus between doses.
The vaccine will be free to students, with the actual doses being compensated by the federal government and the labor cost of administering the vaccine being covered by Lafayette’s local health partners, supplemented by the college.
“Both [the Lehigh Valley Health Network] and St. Luke’s University Health Network have gone above and beyond in meeting the public health challenges created by COVID,” Diorio wrote.
Pennsylvania moved to Phase 1B of vaccine eligibility on April 5, meaning that “people in congregate settings,” which includes many college students, are now able to schedule to be vaccinated. Even with increased availability, however, for students who don’t have easy access to transportation, getting the vaccine could still be difficult without the accessibility of on-campus vaccination.
“We know that scheduling could be challenging, and some students will struggle with transportation even if they can get an appointment locally,” Diorio wrote. “This is why we [were] working hard to find a partner to assist.”
As of now, neither Public Health Director Jeffrey Goldstein nor Diorio said they foresee a fall in which students are obligated to be vaccinated in order to return to campus. Instead, both emphasized that the school will heavily encourage the vaccination.
“I don’t think it’s going to be, as it stands now, a mandate to return,” Goldstein said. “It’s going to be highly recommended instead that students get vaccinated.”
“We highly encourage students to get vaccinated as soon as they can access opportunities,” Diorio wrote. “We require some vaccines, such as meningitis and the MMR booster but the COVID vaccine is not on the required list for fall at this time.”
Despite not guaranteeing that all students will be vaccinated by the fall, Goldstein said he is confident that enough students will have gotten the vaccine for a relatively normal return to campus operations. With the school offering vaccines next week, this is now more likely than ever.
“I can’t predict what’s going to happen in the fall, but I am somewhat optimistic that life on campus will be close to normal,” Goldstein said. “I think that with the majority of students that will choose to get the vaccine, there should be and could be adequate herd immunity to be able to transition to a more normal life on campus.”
As for what “normal” means, it will likely depend on Center for Disease Control guidelines and the climate of COVID-19 both among the school, the state and the nation, he said. Current CDC guidelines for fully vaccinated people include visiting inside a home without a mask with other fully vaccinated people and domestic travel without quarantining.
“When we really make those decisions and recommendations about all the things that we talk about with mitigation strategies like masking and social distancing, we’re not sure which ones we’ll use as we enter into the next semester,” Goldstein said. “It will really depend on what’s happening locally, what’s happening in the state, what’s happening in the country, how many of our students are vaccinated, how many of our faculty and staff are vaccinated.”
Overall, administration and health services are confident that Lafayette will have a long-awaited return to usual campus life in the fall, barring any unforeseen complications or changes in COVID-19 trends.
“Right now, my best guess is that things will be fairly normal. That said, it is a little early to be 100% sure,” Diorio wrote. “We are very excited about what we are seeing regarding the ongoing research about the efficacy of the vaccines at stopping the spread of COVID.”
Students can schedule an appointment online on the student vaccine distribution webpage.
Editor-in-chief Ben Fuller contributed reporting to this article.
Update: A quote from Goldstein was removed to reflect updates on the college’s vaccination efforts.