College, localities plan for spring vaccination rollout as students, staff return to campus during phase 1B

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As students, staff and faculty begin to arrive on campus for the spring semester, the College of William and Mary announced that it has partnered with the Virginia Department of Health to coordinate COVID-19 vaccine rollout.

In a Jan. 14 email, College President Katherine Rowe expressed optimism about the vaccine but provided limited information about vaccine rollout at the College and clarified that plans are still in developmental stages.

“In early January, the United States is experiencing the fiercest spread of COVID-19 to date,” Rowe said. “At the same time, hearts are lifted by the vaccines being distributed to frontline healthcare workers and our most vulnerable community members — thanks to extraordinary efforts by scientists around the world.”

Williamsburg just completed phase 1A of its vaccine rollout — limited only to healthcare workers and long-term care facility residents. Just last week, Peninsula, Hampton, Norfolk, and Virginia Beach were the only health districts in phase 1A as the rest of Virginia has moved into phase 1B, meaning Williamsburg lagged behind the rest of the state in the initial vaccine rollout. Williamsburg officially entered phase 1B Jan. 21. Williamsburg, with a population of 14,927, has administered 27 doses as of Jan. 25, with two people fully vaccinated. James City County, with a population of 76,523, has administered 6,039 doses as of Jan. 25, with 542 people fully vaccinated. Williamsburg has vaccinated roughly 0.16 percent of its population; James City County has vaccinated roughly 7.1 percent of its population. That said, many of the hospitals and health facilities that serve Williamsburg, at which the first doses were administered, are located in surrounding James City County.

The six localities of the Peninsula, including Williamsburg, have been working cooperatively to address vaccination needs. Christopher Newport University, Hampton Roads Convention Center and the Colonial Williamsburg Visitor Center have all been established as vaccine clinics but are not yet open to the public.

“These clinics are set up to administer more than 1,000 vaccines each eight-hour operating period, made possible by using existing medical staff, including school nurses, from each locality to serve as vaccinators,” the localities said in a press release. “However, these clinics are currently limited by the amount of vaccine available. The three clinics are supplemental to the efforts from VDH, which plans to open smaller clinics on the Peninsula.”

It is unclear whether a vaccine clinic will be set up at the College.

Amy Sebring, the College’s chief operating officer, said that students may have to wait longer for the vaccine than staff members, who are included as essential workers in phase 1C of vaccine rollout. Some College employees, such as those working in the student health center or in quarantine housing, were included in phase 1A. Police and other essential workers are included in phase 1B.

“The majority of faculty and staff members, because they work in Virginia higher education, qualify for the 1C distribution schedule. At this time, the local health districts have not started offering vaccines to individuals in Phase 1C. We anticipate most students will be vaccinated with the general population following Phase 1C. Ultimately, it is the Virginia Department of Health that is the decision-maker on vaccinations in Virginia.”

“William & Mary is providing information to the local health districts on employees meeting job-related criteria for 1A and 1B vaccinations,” Sebring said in an email. “The majority of faculty and staff members, because they work in Virginia higher education, qualify for the 1C distribution schedule. At this time, the local health districts have not started offering vaccines to individuals in Phase 1C. We anticipate most students will be vaccinated with the general population following Phase 1C. Ultimately, it is the Virginia Department of Health that is the decision-maker on vaccinations in Virginia.”

According to Sebring, many College employees in the 1A category have already been vaccinated at no cost. Sebring said the College is keeping tabs on its workers that have been vaccinated based on employment but does not necessarily know the status of individuals who may qualify through other factors, such as age or preexisting conditions. She said VDH’s plans for 1C vaccination are still unavailable. The Flat Hat reached out to VDH for comment but did not receive an immediate response.

The COVID-19 vaccine rollout has been painstakingly slow for many Americans. While the vaccine itself was developed at a record pace, its distribution is fragmented and vaccination plans vary drastically on local, state and federal level. Newly inaugurated President Joe Biden has promised 100 million vaccines administered in his first 100 days in office — a steep increase from the mere 13 million Americans currently vaccinated, only two million of which have received both doses.

While many private companies across the country, including Starbucks and Honeywell, have pledged to contribute to distribution efforts, they face a herculean task. Herd immunity for diseases often requires upwards of 80 percent of the population to be vaccinated, and the threshold for herd immunity for COVID-19 is still unknown.

College and universities are frequently emphasized as vital centers of information in combatting COVID-19, both by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other federal agencies. In this spirit, medical expert Anthony Fauci plans to join Rowe for a community conversation the evening of Tuesday, Jan. 26, where they will discuss the vaccine, its distribution and other COVID-19-related topics.

For many students, the wait for a vaccine and the lack of information has fostered uncertainty and stress. With many hoping for a ‘normal’ semester next fall, Sebring said the College has received many questions about vaccine requirements.

“Yes, we’ve received questions about whether the vaccine will be required for any population of the William & Mary community,” Sebring said. “The short answer is no, with caveats. Because the current COVID-19 vaccines are being distributed under an Emergency Use Authorization from the FDA, they are not currently required of any faculty, staff or students. However, in the future, when the vaccines are approved beyond emergency use, they may be included among the other vaccinations required of students who attend W&M or for employees. W&M will continue working with state officials on those determinations as more information becomes available.”

For those wondering when it will be their turn in line, the VDH website has resources to help individuals determine if they qualify for a vaccine in the current phase.