Which states are giving college workers early access to the COVID-19 vaccine?

Dive Brief:

  • Colleges’ non-healthcare employees may have early access to the coronavirus vaccine in some states, though distribution strategies vary widely. 
  • New York began offering the vaccine Monday to college instructors who teach in-person. Oklahoma and South Dakota also list college staff among their priority groups.
  • Campus workers in healthcare fields and some older adults would likely be eligible sooner, however. Vaccinating colleges’ frontline healthcare workers continues to be a priority.

Dive Insight:

States get to decide how they distribute the vaccine. However, they are expected to follow guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which calls for prioritizing healthcare and essential frontline workers along with residents of long-term care facilities and older adults. 

Those who work in education, including teachers and support staff, are considered essential frontline workers in a CDC advisory committee’s latest recommendations. That could include certain college employees, said Anita Barkin, co-chair of the American College Health Association’s COVID-19 Task Force.

But variation among states’ vaccine distribution plans has created a “roll-out labyrinth,” a recent analysis by the Kaiser Family Foundation explains

College instructors teaching in-person in New York are eligible for the vaccine now, according to the state’s distribution plan. South Dakota is including “teachers and other school/college staff” among its early distribution groups, according to its latest vaccine availability outlook

Meanwhile, Oklahoma specifies college workers and students are expected to be eligible in its third phase of vaccine distribution. And college staff in Arkansas will be able to get vaccinated starting next week, according to a media report Tuesday

Other states may also be including college employees in their preliminary phases.

Vaccine distribution has been slow so far. The incoming administration said it plans to accelerate and expand vaccine delivery, though Politico reported that flaws in the Trump administration’s coronavirus response could hamper its efforts. However, the Trump administration on Tuesday issued new guidelines expanding the number of adults eligible to receive the vaccine early, which Axios reported would shift the emphasis away from the tiered system of distribution.

ACHA is focused on ensuring campus healthcare workers can get the vaccine. “In some cases, we are hearing that that has been a difficult goal to achieve for student health services,” Barkin said.

Most college students may not be able to get the vaccine until late spring, according to recent ACHA guidance. The organization is asking the CDC to consider recommending that students get vaccinated before the end of the spring term, citing the risk of spreading the virus as they leave campus for the summer.

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