Lafayette vaccinates a third of students amid COVID-19 case surge and Johnson & Johnson recall

The Pfizer vaccine was offered in place of the second day of vaccinations through Lafayette after the recall of the Johnson &Johnson vaccine. (Photo by Caroline Burns ’22)

Lafayette’s first COVID-19 vaccination drive was completed last Tuesday, bringing the total known vaccination rate to 31% on campus. The drive came amidst a federal pause on the Johnson & Johnson vaccine and the sharpest surge in cases yet seen on campus.

And while the total percentage of students vaccinated remains unclear because many students were vaccinated off-campus, the initial rounds of vaccination had disappointing turnout from students, with only 57% of the available Pfizer doses administered to students and faculty this past week.

“I wouldn’t necessarily call it a success for the number of students we vaccinated here, I think it was a huge step in providing open access to the vaccine on campus,” Director of Health Services and College Physician Jeffrey Goldstein, said. “I think it will represent a huge step in the right direction toward herd immunity to have a significant percentage of our students being vaccinated.”

The college gave out 270 doses on Tuesday, with the vast majority being administered to students. Last week, the college gave the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine to around 400 students. While there were many reasons that not all the vaccines were utilized on Tuesday, Goldstein noted that the uptick in cases played a role.

“There were a couple students at the last minute who couldn’t get the vaccine because they’re actually put in quarantine or tested positive between the time they signed up and the time it was available,” he said.

The conclusion of the vaccination campaign coincides with the release of the vaccination survey.  Students who complete the survey and submit their vaccination cards will have the option to opt-out of weekly testing, beginning next Monday. The survey will take into account students who received, or who will receive, their vaccinations outside of Lafayette.

The college will also be able to arrange transportation to vaccination cites, according to Goldstein, so long as the facility is close by. According to the Pennsylvania Department of Health’s vaccine provider map, there are five locations within a ten-minute radius of Lafayette, roughly the same amount of time it would take to drive to Metzgar Fields.

The college reported a total number of 102 students and staff in isolation on April 15 at the peak of the spike, the highest number of collective cases so far. The day prior to this record-setting number, Annette Diorio, Vice President of Campus Life, announced a shift to Operational Level 2. As of now, it is unclear when Lafayette will shift back to Level 1.

“I am sad to report that our COVID-19 case count continues to trend dangerously upward. We are stretching the capacity of our physical spaces as well as our human resources in an effort to keep pace with the number of new cases,” Diorio wrote in the announcement. “If we can’t rein this in, our ability to offer in-person instruction and to end the year with the type of in-person activities we wish to hold (Commencement, senior sendoff, etc.) will be jeopardized.”

Lafayette’s vaccine program ended with over 60 students were in isolation recovering from COVID-19. The most recent surge happened shortly after the Lafayette-Lehigh game.

“[The Lafayette-Lehigh game] may have been one factor, just an opportunity to celebrate a victory over our rivals,” Goldstein said. “Sure, that was a contributing factor, I don’t know that it was the only factor but I just think in general, students are getting exhausted from using all the behaviors of masking and social distancing and maybe we’re a little lax that weekend and I think that’s what led to more cases.”

“We received several reports of violations of the COVID protocols and are adjudicating those in our conduct process,” Diorio said in regards to the recent outbreak.

Goldstein also hypothesized that the highly contagious B.1.1.7. variant may have played a role in the quick spread.

With more transmittable variants possibly contributing to Pennsylvania’s recent rise in cases, many have begun to wonder whether Lafayette would mandate a COVID-19 vaccination for those returning to campus in the fall, as Lehigh University announced they would on Wednesday. As of now, there are no plans for Lafayette to require the vaccine to return to campus.

“I have a number of reasons why I reached that decision,” Goldstein explained. “It’s still under an emergency use order, and I am philosophically opposed to mandating any medical intervention that is under emergency authorization only.”

Should a COVID-19 vaccine receive full FDA approval, he said he would reconsider his stance.

“I’d like to see more guidelines from CDC to help us make this decision, but as of now we haven’t made the decision yet,” Goldstein said. “I remain open-minded about it, either for or against a mandate.”

A decision on a vaccine mandate is expected by the end of May.

“My goal is to go back to normal,” said Goldstein. “If going back to normal requires a mandate, then I think that’s the right thing to do.”

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