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Plans for UNC student vaccinations commence, though rollout seems months away


Christian Brown, a second year pharmacy student, taps a syringe with a pen to rid it of any air bubbles while preparing a dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine on Thursday, Jan. 21, 2021 in the Friday Center in Chapel Hill.

As people across the nation have begun receiving the COVID-19 vaccine, many UNC students have been left wondering when they will be able to get it themselves. 

The short answer? Not any time soon. 

Due to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services' prioritization guidelines, most students will not be eligible until vaccine distribution is approved for Group 5. This category includes anyone who would like to receive the vaccine and may be available as early as late spring or the beginning of summer. 

Although student vaccinations are likely months away, many UNC faculty and staff may be eligible to receive the vaccine soon due to their status as frontline essential workers.

“University leaders advocated for critical University staff, including frontline workers and faculty teaching in person, be included in the early phases of the rollout,” Provost Bob Blouin said in a statement. “We were pleased to see these groups included in Phase 3, frontline essential workers, in the most recent statewide prioritization framework.” 

What’s ahead?

Though UNC Hospitals is currently functioning as a vaccination site for Orange County, the University itself is not. However, Campus Health has been approved as a site for vaccine storage and distribution to students. 

With this in mind, the University is currently maintaining information about the vaccine on the Carolina Together website and is working on outreach programs for communities at higher risk for COVID-19.

“We are working with our University’s public health experts on effective communications for the University’s vaccine rollout, as well as targeted communications and outreach to students and employees who are Black, Indigenous and people of color,” UNC Media Relations said.

Health experts at UNC are also considering the logistical elements behind rolling the vaccine out on a large scale. 

Audrey Pettifor, a professor in the Department of Epidemiology, said that timing will be an important consideration when it comes to student vaccinations.

“Especially given the two vaccine sequences,” Pettifor said, “we wouldn’t want to be giving the first vaccine on April 15, let’s say, and then have everybody leave for the semester and can’t get their second vaccine.”

The University is also considering the process by which students will be able to receive the vaccine. In Thursday’s Campus & Community Advisory Committee meeting, David Weber, professor of medicine, said that students will have to go through a registration process through the state to be able to receive the vaccine. 

“When we move to large number of students for Campus Health to be able to do it, students will have to register through the state and the state will have to agree to it,” Weber said. “We do plan a site here in the future on campus.”

Though it remains unclear how many vaccines will become available for the University's use, Weber said health experts are committed to properly distributing them. 

“UNC Health has made it an absolute priority that any vaccine we get, we will use,” Weber said. “We’re never going to turn vaccines away.”

While plans for vaccine distribution are not yet finalized, the University hopes to see much of the UNC student and faculty population get vaccinated. 

“The University encourages eligible students, faculty and staff to receive a vaccine when it is available to them,” Blouin said in a statement. “Vaccinations are one of the best ways the campus community can protect themselves and those around them from the virus and is a critical step in ending the pandemic.” 

Until then, the University encourages students to continue following Carolina Community and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines related to COVID-19, especially when it comes to the start of in-person classes in early February. Pettifor said regular testing and following guidelines will be critical to ensuring a smooth semester.

“Testing matters, do your tests,” Pettifor said. “I also just want to remind people that a test is not a 100% guarantee, so to still encourage people to wear their masks, particularly right now given how high the case rate is in North Carolina.”

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