During a virtual town hall on March 3, Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro announced Marist College’s designation as a short-term COVID-19 vaccination site in an effort to increase vaccine distribution in the Hudson Valley. The opening of Marist’s pop-up vaccine site has raised questions about what that could mean for Vassar becoming a vaccination distribution center, although the timeline for student vaccination is unclear.
Marist will serve as a vaccination location between March 5-10. According to a New York State press release, the site is expected to administer 3,500 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Both eligible students and local residents were permitted to sign up, although appointment slots are now filled.
Pop-up clinics such as Marist’s are part of a concerted effort to vaccinate higher numbers of eligible New Yorkers. Dutchess County is beginning to significantly ramp up vaccine distribution. As of March 7, 17.6 percent of Dutchess County residents had received the first dose of the vaccine and 7.6 percent had received second doses. On March 8, Malinaro announced that the county will be receiving between 8,000 and 10,000 doses this week, increasing vaccination rates by 400 percent.
The efficacy of the available COVID-19 vaccines continues to be confirmed as more Americans are safely vaccinated. On March 8, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention announced that fully vaccinated people could gather without social distancing protocols, a statement that signals that classes and extracurricular activities could return to Vassar once the population has been vaccinated.
Vassar’s application to become a vaccination distributor is yet to be approved but the establishment of Marist’s pop-up vaccination site is promising. In an email, Vice President of Communications Amanita Duga-Carroll stated, “We do not know if this new site will have any impact on approval for Vassar as a distribution site; however, given Marist’s proximity to Vassar, the opening of the Marist site is terrific news for our community.”
Since Vassar has not been established as a vaccination site, some students who are eligible to receive the vaccine under New York State guidelines have tried to seek appointments off campus.
When Keira DiGaetano ’23 initially found out she was eligible to receive the vaccine, she wanted to schedule an appointment as soon as possible. DiGaetano explained that she qualified for the vaccine because she is immunocompromised and has asthma, which is particularly difficult in cold weather. “I wouldn’t qualify in my home state,” she explained. “I qualify here which is very nice because I am very worried about my lungs,” she added.
Upon becoming eligible, DiGaetano emailed Health Services to arrange an appointment. Health Services staff informed DiGaetano that they did not have a specific system to follow for people who have become newly eligible for a vaccination, and that she needed to arrange her appointments off-campus by herself.
The closest site that DiGaetano could find with open appointment slots was at Westchester County Center in White Plains, which is approximately one hour away from Vassar. Reflecting on her experience, she stated, “I actually felt actively unassisted by them [Vassar administration] in terms of finding the appointment.”
Despite the frustrations she faced securing her appointment, DiGaetano expressed gratitude for the help she received when applying for off-campus privileges. “I appreciate how quickly they [administration] got back to me with that,” DiGaetano said. “That was helpful even if they didn’t help me find the actual appointment.”
Other students have expressed confusion about the College’s return policy for students who received an off-campus vaccination.
Nicole Stern ’22 explained that when she applied for off-campus privileges for her vaccination appointment in Manhattan, she did not receive any information regarding her return to campus. “There was no information about my returning, if I should do any type of a quarantine, asking what method of transportation I was taking, or anything to judge my exposure risk other than that I was staying in state and would be back that same day,” she expressed.
Stern acknowledged that some off-campus trips are higher risk than others, and that she thinks the College should adopt a more detailed policy specific to students who are getting vaccinated. “I don’t think that everybody needs to be put in quarantine after being approved to leave campus, just that we should follow-up to these requests with an acknowledgement of the level of risk and plan accordingly,” she explained.
“Students who go to get vaccinated in NY or within a contiguous state are not expected to self-quarantine upon return so long as they come and go within the same day,” commented Duga-Caroll.
Yet even as vaccine distribution increases, supply is still limited in New York state and it is unclear when students without any underlying conditions will qualify for the vaccine. “While the FDA approval of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine and President Biden’s commitment to increase the supply of vaccinations are encouraging, we have not been given a timeline for when students will become eligible,” commented Duga-Caroll. She explained that currently, the College’s efforts are focused on helping student-facing essential workers get approved for vaccination. Until students are vaccinated, the College will encourage students to adhere to social distancing guidelines even while some of their peers may be receiving the vaccine.