Colleges and Universities Partner With Local Communities to Distribute Vaccines

With COVID-19 vaccine distribution increasing across the country, colleges and universities are looking to address health inequities, accessibility challenges and immunization hesitancy within their local communities.

As part of a long-standing partnership, Temple University’s College of Public Health recently collaborated with the Philadelphia Housing Authority (PHA) to vaccinate essential workers and high-risk populations in public housing.

For many residents, lack of transportation and internet access has hindered their ability to receive a vaccine.

Dr. Susan VonNessen-ScanlinDr. Susan VonNessen-Scanlin

Now clinics, led by Temple faculty and fully trained nursing student volunteers, have been set up at public housing sites around the city of Philadelphia.

“This partnership has successfully brought the vaccination to the most vulnerable population in Philadelphia,” said Nichole L. Tillman, PHA spokesperson. “We have successfully broken down the barriers that have inhibited these residents to get vaccinated at other sites around the city.”

To encourage residents to register for the clinics, PHA resident leader and community outreach workers distribute informational pamphlets, created by medical students at Temple, door-to-door and respond to concerns about the vaccine.

“We are learning from the community that because we are consistent, we are building trust,” said Dr. Susan VonNessen-Scanlin, associate dean of clinical affairs and interprofessional education at Temple’s College of Public Health. “Residents who are hesitant have had an opportunity to see us on multiple occasions, ask questions and have an opportunity to be vaccinated when they are ready.”

As of now, 700 senior residents in public housing and over 300 essential workers from PHA and its partners have been vaccinated. Around half of those individuals are fully vaccinated while the remaining are scheduled to receive their second dose within the next few weeks, according to VonNessen-Scanlin.

“I had one gentleman say to me that he was getting vaccinated because we came to him, showed him we cared and made him feel treated with dignity,” she said. “Different from needing to wait in long lines outside for hours or register through complicated computer systems.”

Community involvement has also been apparent at Alma College.

To address shortages of medical professionals, 15 nursing students volunteered to administer COVID-19 vaccines at the Central Michigan District Health Department. Additionally, last month, volunteers from the college administered over 940 vaccines to the city’s residents through a collaboration effort with a local physician’s office.

“I think everybody that did that volunteer work really had a rewarding experience,” said Alan Gatlin, senior vice president and COO at Alma. “I have talked to some health care professionals that have said, ‘of all the things we have done, just seeing the relief on people’s faces has been a very rewarding experience at the vaccine clinics.’”

Students have been at the center of vaccine distribution efforts at colleges and universities across the country.

Alan GatlinAlan Gatlin

For example, looking to confront misinformation and create access to vaccines, Yale School of Medicine students Danielle Miyagishima, Hirsh Shekhar and Haleigh Larson established the Students Promoting Health Advocacy and Synchronized Engagement with Communities (S-PHASEC) model.

Since its establishment in January, around 250 students from seven institutions in Connecticut have become involved.

S-PHASEC consists of three initiatives including Student Tools for Emergency Policy Engagement and Advocacy (STEP-E Advocacy), Public Immunization Education & Community Effort Campaign (PIECE Campaign) and Spike Support.

Working with state and federal policymakers, the STEP-E Advocacy team aims to pass legislation to allow health care students to be vaccinators.

To address vaccine concerns, PIECE Campaign volunteers work with community organizations to distribute accurate information around the vaccine while the Spike Support team hosts Zoom sessions to discuss the side effects, testing and development of the vaccine.

“I have worked with so many amazing people from health institutions and community-based organizations to slowly untangle the chaos and to spread out the weariness, all to better serve our communities,” said Antalique Tran, a student at Yale and S-PHASEC volunteer. “And hopefully the work that we do now can provide a template so that future public health work can be the straightforward work that I had expected.”

As eligibility requirements continue to change by state, institutions are now shifting their focus to vaccinating their own campus communities.

For example, in partnership with Rite Aid, a vaccination clinic is set to open this week at Alma’s Remick Heritage Center for the Performing Arts. Students, faculty, staff and their families can register for an appointment.

Additionally, due to a high number of vaccine supply, the clinic will also be available for Alma residents. To limit contact, appointments are aggregated throughout the day. Around 2,000 people are expected to be vaccinated over a three-day period, according to Gatlin.

“There is more than just manufacturing the vaccine,” he said. “You also have to get shots in arms. Alma College has been able to facilitate getting shots in arms in a number of different ways. Whether it is doing all of the administrative parts and publicity to make that happen or it’s actually physically doing the work at the clinic. We are able to contribute in all of those ways.”

Looking to create a safer in-person environment, Rutgers University, alongside a few other institutions, announced plans to require the COVID-19 for all enrolled students for the upcoming fall semester.

“The COVID-19 vaccines have proven to be safe and effective in preventing serious illness, hospitalization and death,” Dr. Brian Strom, chancellor of Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences and executive vice president for health affairs at Rutgers, said in a statement. “Vaccination is key to stopping the current pandemic and to the return of campus instruction and activities closer to what we were accustomed to before the pandemic drastically changed life at Rutgers.”

Sarah Wood can be reached at swood@diverseeducation.com.