Having been approved as a vaccination site in February, Carleton is now in the process of strategizing priority groups, gathering data on eligible community members and managing a myriad of other distribution logistics.
Dean of Students Carolyn Livingston told the Carletonian that “as a community clinic, we are abiding by the same phases that everybody in the state is abiding by.” That means that if the college is allocated any doses while Minnesota is still in the current Tier 1 of the 1b vaccination phase, the doses would only go to staff, faculty and any of their household members who are age 65 and over.
However, Livingston stated that “we have not been given any vaccines for distribution on campus,” and it is unknown if or when the state might begin to allocate doses to the college.
Nurse Practitioner and Vaccine Coordinator Angel Yackel explained that if the state does decide to distribute the vaccine to Carleton, “we’d get notified [by the] state on a Thursday or a Friday that we’d receive [the] vaccine the next week.” The vaccines would be delivered around the following Tuesday, and the college would have three days to administer 90% of the allocated doses and the rest of the week to use the remainder.
The state of Minnesota is distributing directly to hospitals, clinics and pharmacies, and the remaining doses are handled by “coalitions in each part of the state that get allocated doses, and the coalitions decide how those extra doses will be given out,” Yackel said. These coalitions typically distribute to vaccination sites such as congregate living facilities, pharmacies that need additional doses and clinics that are not affiliated with hospitals. The college would likely fall in the third category.
“We’ve submitted our information to that coalition, so if they deem it appropriate to give vaccine[s] to us to give to the priority groups, they [will] let us know,” Yackel explained. “It could happen at any time, but it also could be several months from now.”
In the meantime, the college’s Vaccine Priority Working Group—spearheaded by Yackel and another vaccine coordinator, Advanced Practice Nurse Natalee Johnson—is preparing for swift action in the event that Carleton is allocated vaccines.
Yackel reported that the college in February sent a form to all faculty and staff to start compiling a list of community members who fall into each state-designated priority group. She explained that Carleton wants to develop a list of all those who fall into the current priority group, as well as those in the next group in case the college has extra vaccine doses.
According to recent updates from the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH), the current Phase 1b–Tier 1 group includes people ages 65 years and older. Phase 1b–Tier 2 will include anyone 16 or older with certain designated high risk health conditions.
Phase 1b–Tier 3 will extend the vaccine to people ages 45-64 with at least one underlying health condition from a more extensive list, people ages 16-44 with at least two conditions from the same list, and anyone over 50 years old who lives in multi-generational housing. Finally, Phase 1b–Tier 4 will include anyone over 16 with at least one condition from the list as well as all people over the age of 50.
After the four 1b tiers are complete or adequately underway, the state will proceed to Phase 1c, which will include broader categories of essential workers, and finally Phase 2, which will open up vaccines to the general public.
According to US Census 2019 American Community Survey data, there are over one million Minnesotans in the 1b category. MDH recently predicted that the state would reach Phase 2 by around July 2021, but this timeline has not been updated since the FDA’s emergency approval of a third vaccine, produced by Johnson & Johnson, which is expected to accelerate the vaccine rollout nationwide.
President Joe Biden recently suggested that all American adults could receive a vaccine by the end of May, moving the rollout timeline up by a few months, though he made clear that it was not a promise.
Yackel confirmed that the college is working on a survey, similar to the one sent to faculty and staff in February, to compile lists of students who fall into each priority group.
“We have the survey in the works…but it’s one of those things that goes through the Core [COVID] team and everything, so we need approval from them before we [c]ould send it out,” she told the Carletonian on February 19.
Livingston expressed a belief that “it will be some time before we get out of the 65 and older phase.” Similarly, Yackel admitted, “We’re hopeful that we’ll get something, but it is a waiting game.”
She continued, “As we’re becoming more aware of what’s going on around us, we’re not expecting super soon that we’ll get anything, but we don’t know that. We could suddenly get a call…saying ‘we need to distribute this vaccine, can you do it?’”
Yackel also mentioned that “there are a lot of folks in higher education who are pushing to get the vaccine out to institutes of higher education before the end of the school year for sure, because it’s a very valuable resource to have a college or university able to vaccinate their whole campus while everyone is on campus.”
Conversely, she said, “If vaccines [aren’t] prioritized for higher education prior to the end of school year, then it puts more of the burden on local healthcare systems to be able to vaccinate students once they’re back home.”
In a recent op-ed for the Chicago Tribune, Cornell College President Jonathan Brand advocates for accelerated distribution of the newly approved Johnson & Johnson vaccine to young adults—particularly college students, many of whom will soon be “traveling nationwide.”
Brand argues that because it is less effective than the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine could be more effective at protecting the population as a whole if it was distributed to young people first, saving the more effective vaccines for those in higher-risk groups while moving a super-spreader population towards herd immunity.
The American College Health Association is also calling on the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to allocate vaccines for college students before the “mass migration event” at the end of the spring term, and insists that “Colleges and universities are a logical site for COVID-19 vaccine distribution.”
As for the likelihood that federal and state governments grant this request, Yackel expressed mild doubts, “because nobody’s getting vaccine[s] for anybody but those that are in the priority groups,” at least for the moment. However, she is confident that “local public health as well as the department of health has a pulse on this,” and noted that “we’re receiving communications from them regularly.”
Regarding the limited communication from college administrators on vaccination plans, Yackel said, “We’ve been wanting to share information, but it’s a tricky time […]because of all the unknowns that are there still. But we want people to know that we have plans in place and we’re ready to say yes whenever they call on us.”
Johnson added, “Carleton is really preparing to be ready to do it when we can.” She said the mission of the Vaccine Priority Working Group “is to really just be ready to go when it’s ready and not have that be a limitation on why we couldn’t accept vaccine[s] if they were made available. So we’re pushing for that, and we’ve got a great team working on it, and we’re looking at all the angles so that we don’t have to delay anything that would be offered.”
“It’s a rocky rollout,” Johnson observed of the national and global distribution process, but “I believe that people are doing the best they can on a very short notice.”
Update: March 6, 2021 — this article has been updated from the version published in our print edition to include information about a statement from President Joe Biden on the national vaccination timeline.