Zoe Stratos | staff writer
On March 3, Duquesne University sent an email to all students announcing that the Pennsylvania Department of Health [DOH] has approved administration of the COVID-19 vaccine on campus for employees and students in the near future.
“The university has been in constant contact with county and state health officials about every aspect of COVID-19 issues, from early safety measures and alerts right up through current conversations about vaccines,” said Vice President of Marketing and Communications, Gabriel Welsch. “We have described our readiness and our wish to do our part for the effort by providing the vaccine efficiently within our community, and we are pleased that the state has agreed, in principle, to activate our provider.”
The news first came to the university on Friday, Feb. 26, and since then, the Duquesne University COVID-19 Master Planning Team has been working hard to prepare.
Led by the Center for Pharmacy Care and under the supervision of Health Services Medical Director, Dr. Paul Larson, the vaccine will be distributed in the Power Center ballrooms.
“Both Student Health Services and Center for Pharmacy Care (CPC) have been preparing for months for vaccine distribution at Duquesne University,” Larson said. “CPC staff, under the direction of Dr. Libby Bunk, have provided invaluable support to the Allegheny County Health Department in their community vaccine programs and Duquesne has hosted previous vaccine clinics provided by the ACHD. Although we submitted our application prior to Thanksgiving, we were surprised to learn last Thursday that our vaccine provider agreement with the Pennsylvania Department of Health had been authorized.”
Vaccine supplies have been limited across the state, and requests for supplies for distribution aren’t assured in other regional health systems, but Larson and the rest of CPC and Health Services are hopeful that supplies will begin rolling in soon.
Since the vaccine plans are in the beginning stages, the university does not know which type of vaccine they will be receiving, nor when distribution will begin, but DOH guidelines have given the university a place to start.
“We are not aware if other regional institutions have been authorized to request vaccines and would caution that vaccine distribution cannot be guaranteed until supplies are received at Duquesne University,” Larson said. “Thereafter, Duquesne University is fully equipped with storage, space and staff to begin vaccinating eligible faculty, staff and students, and will continue to do so as long as supplies are received.”
According to the Pennsylvania DOH website, vaccine distribution is still in the 1A phase, which includes long-term care facility residents, healthcare personnel, persons 65 and older and persons 16-64 with high risk conditions. Because initial supplies are limited, the vaccine will be distributed to Pennsylvanians in four phases.
As most of the university’s population does not meet these requirements, a survey will first be going out to all university employees asking several questions to determine whether or not they meet the criteria for phase 1A.
“Those students who are working in clinical settings already have been identified as 1A,” Welsch said. “If we receive sufficient supplies to pursue 1B vaccination, we will follow with a student survey.”
Vaccine registration for both employees and students will work similar to COVID-19 testing registration. Using the SONA software, Duquesne will be able to schedule and track those in the first group until they all receive the vaccine. Distribution to the first group will depend on the amount of vaccine given to the university by the state health department, but will start immediately.
Those included in this group should note that although they will be registered for a certain date, they may not receive the vaccine that day due to the supply given. As a result, scheduled appointments will be postponed to the following week.
Overall, Duquesne is unsure of when distribution will go out to the general student population, and will be in contact with state officials until the time comes. University officials may also eventually open distribution to the public, depending on how health officials integrate them into plans.
“Duquesne officials remain in constant contact with state and local officials, and we work to stay responsive so we can meet changing plans and conditions,” Welsch said. “It is difficult to predict in such a rapidly evolving environment.” The communications department is working on additions to the COVID-19 news and updates page, including an updated FAQ that provides additional information given in the email sent out on March 3.