University Prepares To Announce Vaccine Requirement For Return To Campus, Johnson & Johnson and Pfizer Vaccines To Be Made Available

In the coming days, Colgate is set to announce whether the COVID-19 vaccine will be required in the Fall. Mandating the vaccines would add Colgate to a growing list of institutions of higher education that are mandating the vaccine as part of a new routine for in-person teaching. Associate Vice President Dan Gough has assured that any vaccine will be acceptable, “provided it is approved by their country of origin or residence.”

“A university vaccine requirement would include exemptions for medical and religious reasons,” Gough said. “Should the University require students to be vaccinated, there would no longer be need for surveillance testing in the Fall (only diagnostic testing if a student or employee were to exhibit COVID-19 like symptoms).”

Director of Student Health Services Dr. Merrill Miller elaborated on to whom the requirement would apply, should Colgate follow other institutions. 

“I think the majority [of other colleges and universities] are requiring [the vaccine] for anyone who comes on campus,” Miller said. 

The requirement might also apply to students staying on campus over the summer for research, according to an email from Upstate Institute Project Director Julie Dudrick. Gough and Miller both anticipate the final details of the decision to be released later this week. Miller said she is strongly in favor of the requirement, as she has seen firsthand the impact of vaccinations on global public health.

“I am a big believer in vaccinations, and the reason for that is scientific information as well as personal experience. I am old enough that I was one of the people in the Polio vaccine studies when they came out. I have been a physician long enough to remember before there was a chickenpox vaccine, before there were double MMR [Measles, Mumps and Rubella] vaccines, before there were Meningitis vaccines,” Miller said. “Vaccination is right up there with sanitation and refrigeration as key things that keep people healthy worldwide.”

Junior Samantha Giuntini echoed these sentiments.

“I feel like Colgate has been trying to take as many precautions as they can this year, and vaccines are a new line of defense, so it makes sense to me that they might make it a requirement. We already have to provide immunization records for a lot of other things so I don’t think it’s an unreasonable request for the most part. The only caveat is that access to vaccines in other countries is much more limited than in the U.S., so I also think that if Colgate makes it a requirement they should also be sure to provide vaccines for people who might not have access.”

Junior Chris Shammas shared a similar perspective as Giuntini, adding that he believes a return to normalcy is contingent upon a vaccination requirement.

“I don’t think anyone should be barred from returning to campus if they don’t have a vaccine,” Shammas said. “That being said, I think the only way we are going to return to normal is if we are all vaccinated. I think if the school can provide vaccines as they have been, then making it a requirement would make sense, but it is heavily dependent on accessibility.”

Despite her faith in vaccines, Miller said she is not envisioning a full return to normal for the Fall 2021 semester.

“It doesn’t mean we won’t be testing again, it doesn’t mean your masks should go up in flames, but it is clearly of significant public health importance,” Miller said. “We will be having vaccine clinics during the summer for those who have not yet been vaccinated and we will certainly have vaccine clinics at the start of the fall semester for those students who were been unable to get vaccines, either because of international status, other countries not having the same availability as we have, or people who have other circumstances that prevented them from getting vaccinated.”

These circumstances include those with pre-existing health conditions or those who are currently pregnant. Miller encouraged everyone who is currently eligible to get a vaccine as soon as possible. Colgate will be offering more Johnson & Johnson vaccines this week, and hopefully throughout the end of the semester. For those concerned about the efficacy of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine compared to the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, Miller clarified that all three are effective against the COVID-19 virus and should be taken if available. 

“That’s the thing, it really is comparing apples to oranges: both of them are fruits [and] both of them are delicious, but they’re different and it was done at a different time and it was compared to different of the virus that are out there, but what’s key to all three of those vaccines is that protection against serious illness, and hospitalization, and death is equivalent for all three of them — that all three are very effective against serious illness, hospitalizations and death, and that’s why it’s important to get what’s available to you,” Miller said.

Colgate will also start offering the Pfizer vaccine, but it won’t be until after most students have left campus, according to Miller.

“We will be getting [the] Pfizer vaccine. It probably won’t be for another week or two but Colgate does have the storage space for that and the county health department has designated us as a site to store Pfizer vaccine and we hope that that will be arriving soon and that that will become available in the next several weeks,” Miller said. “What will probably happen from here on out now that there’s more vaccine available and now that everybody is eligible over the age of 16, is that we will work in conjunction with the county health department to do combined clinics… in different sites. So we’re pleased that we were approved as a vaccine storage site for Pfizer vaccine which comes in batches of 1000.”

Miller stated that the minimum order for the Pfizer vaccine is 1170 doses. Because of this and the time restrictions on distributing the vaccine, Colgate was unable to request doses of Pfizer despite having the requisite storage facilities.

“It used to be very restricted; you had to give it within a certain number of days, they now have lengthened that out, so we don’t have to give it all on one day. We’re never going to be a state fair site which gives 6,000 in a day or something, so that’s why this is the first time that the county health dept is going to be able to get Pfizer vaccine because we’ll be able to use it over the course of weeks,” Miller said.

Above all, Miller was grateful for the efforts taken by the Colgate community as a whole to keep each other safe.

“I really want to express thanks to the employees and students at Colgate and the local community who almost universally have taken this health issue seriously and have been cooperative and helpful in the many different ways we have asked them to change their lives in the past year and a half. Bravo to them and bravo to Colgate’s administration for encouraging, supporting and believing that we could remain open during this time.”