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USM schools distributing vaccines; mandatory inoculations still up in the air

The team that provided COVID-19 vaccinations at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore earlier this month. (Submitted Photo)

The team that provided COVID-19 vaccinations at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore earlier this month. (Submitted Photo)

Some University System of Maryland schools have begun distributing COVID-19 vaccines through their health centers, while others are planning to follow, system Chancellor Jay Perman announced at a Board of Regents meeting Friday.

Most health centers will distribute COVID-19 vaccines directly to the students living on campus this semester — a number totaling about 15,000 — along with faculty and staff. Health centers without the personnel or capacity to vaccinate students on their own will be able to partner with another provider, such as a local health department or a pharmacy.

The USM worked with the Maryland Higher Education Commission and the Maryland Department of Health to get permission to provide vaccinations directly on campus. Perman called the approval process “a fast-moving effort, given that we needed to make sure students could get both doses of the vaccine before heading home for the summer.”

The process began about two weeks ago, at which time some schools had already used Maryland ImmuNet, the state’s vaccine portal, to apply to be a vaccine provider, said Mike Lurie, a system spokesman.

Also at the meeting, Perman revisited the idea of mandating COVID-19 vaccinations for students coming to campus in the fall. Though Perman said he is a firm advocate for requiring the inoculation, he has not yet made a decision regarding whether the system will do so, saying he understands why some might be reluctant to receive the shot.

He plans to consult with the university presidents before deciding conclusively whether students, faculty and staff will have to be vaccinated.

“When that decision is made, I will return to this board to formally apprise you of our decision, engage in further discussion, and answer questions,” he said. Whatever decision is made, he said, will apply across the board to USM institution, with some possible exceptions, such as at the University of Maryland Global Campus, where many students participate in remote instruction or live overseas.

Most of the system’s university presidents weighed in in favor of a mandate.

“We should be following the science, and the science is saying mandatory vaccinations,” said Freeman Hrabowski, the president of the University of Maryland Baltimore County. “We do it already for meningitis and things like that.”

At least five campuses have already begun immunizing students, with at least four — Frostburg, Salisbury, Towson and the University of Maryland, College Park — holding “closed” clinics that were only for students and employees, according to a system spokesman. Coppin State University has been collaborating with churches in Baltimore to operate an “open” site, distributing inoculations to students and employees as well as community members.

The University of Maryland, College Park, first began distributing vaccines on April 12. The University of Maryland Eastern Shore held two clinics on April 8 and April 12, immunizing 400 people — mostly employees and students, but a handful of community members were immunized as well — with the help of the Somerset County Health Department and the school’s own School of Pharmacy and Health Professions.

Salisbury University began offering vaccinations two weeks ago, distributing 1,200 doses to members of the campus community through clinics at the school’s Physical Activities Center. The college partnered with the local Wicomico County Health Department to do so.

Because of the current pause on the only single-shot inoculation — Johnson & Johnson — due to reports of six recipients of the vaccine experiencing blood clots, the university will not be distributing more vaccines in the coming weeks. The school’s semester ends in three week, so officials would not be able to distribute the required second dose to students. However, second-dose appointments for students who already received their first are scheduled for May.

At Friday’s regents meeting, Perman stated that the current pause on Johnson & Johnson vaccines would not significantly affect on-campus vaccine distribution efforts, because the schools are mostly distributing Moderna or Pfizer.

A statement from an MDH spokesperson seemed to indicate that the pause of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine was causing, in part, limits in the vaccine supply that were affecting system universities.

“We are working closely with USM to vaccinate students, faculty, and staff; however, due in part to the nationwide J&J vaccine administration pause, there is a limited supply of vaccines available,” the statement said. “We will continue to work with our partners to get as many shots into arms as possible, including potentially holding events at mass vaccination sites focused on these groups.”

Perman noted at Friday’s meeting that thousands of residential students have already been vaccinated, either through their schools or elsewhere; it is unclear how many staff and faculty members have received their shot.

Other schools are gearing up to hold vaccine clinics in the near future, including UMBC and Bowie State University. UMBC has partnered with the Baltimore County Health Department to get appointments for school employees, who include student workers, while Bowie students and workers will be vaccinated by the school’s graduate nursing students.

 

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