Amid nationwide lags in coronavirus vaccine rollout, Yale public health officials estimate that the vaccine could be available to all members of the Yale campus community by April — with student vaccinations possibly starting in the coming weeks.
Connecticut is currently in Phase 1a of its phased allocation of COVID-19 vaccines — in which health care personnel, long-term care facility residents and medical first responders can be vaccinated — and plans to transition into Phase 1b next week, according to an email from Director of Yale Health Paul Genecin to Yale Health patients. In this next stage, frontline essential workers, people over 65, anyone older than 18 who has a high risk condition and those living in congregate settings will all be eligible for the vaccine.
According to Yale New Haven Hospital Director of Infection Prevention Richard Martinello, the University is currently trying to clarify with the Connecticut government what the term “congregate setting” means. If college dorms are included in the definition, student vaccinations could be imminent. If not, Martinello and Sten Vermund, dean of the School of Public Health, estimated that vaccines should likely be available to all members of the University community by April.
The guidelines for who qualifies as “living in congregate settings” are murky. Currently, the Connecticut Department of Public Health defines residents of congregate settings as “individuals and staff in halfway homes, inpatient mental health facilities, corrections facilities, homeless shelters, domestic violence shelters, substance use and residential treatment facilities along with others.” However, Genecin said that the definition is being adapted almost daily as states discuss who will fall under the next categories for phased COVID-19 vaccine allocation.
Two vaccines, one from Pfizer-BioNTech and the other from Moderna, have received emergency use authorization from the FDA on a record timeline as part of Operation Warp Speed, the federal effort to accelerate vaccine development. Now, the challenge is how to allocate and administer the vaccines, which require two doses and a frigid storage temperature.
‘A bumpy road’ for vaccine rollout
“The major bottleneck today and tomorrow is how much vaccine is available,” Martinello said. “There will always be a bumpy road when something like this has been developed and implemented so quickly. But everything right now, as long as we have a vaccine that becomes available, it’s pointing toward this being very successful.”
Moderna and Pfizer have scaled up production, and the Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca vaccines will likely receive FDA approval in the coming weeks, Vermund said. According to Nanci Fortgang, chief clinical operations officer at Yale Health, if other COVID-19 vaccine candidates receive FDA approval in the coming weeks or months, Yale Health will seek to incorporate them into current vaccination plans.
As of Jan. 14, Yale has a vaccine shortage and is using every dose it receives, Vermund said. It has administered more than 23,000 doses. About half of the Yale community eligible to be vaccinated in Phase 1a — health care workers and laboratory staff who work with COVID-19 patients or samples — have received at least one dose of either the Pfizer or Moderna shot.
Earlier in the pandemic, the Lanman Center at Payne Whitney Gymnasium was a field hospital for the surging number of coronavirus patients. Now, it is the home base for Yale’s COVID-19 vaccination program.
According to Fortgang, Yale Health’s COVID-19 vaccination clinics first started administering vaccines on Dec. 30. To accommodate the growing number of people who will qualify to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, Yale Health is trying to increase the number of staff who can administer the shots and procure additional facilities that could become vaccination clinics, Fortgang added.
Expanding vaccine access
Once the state government and Department of Public Health permit it, the University will open vaccination slots to individuals outside of the campus community, Genecin said.
“Perhaps the single most important consideration is how we can reach communities that may be less accepting of the vaccine,” Fortgang wrote in an email to the News.
Addressing vaccine hesitancy among communities that have historically been victim to unethical human experimentation, including Black and Latinx communities, has been identified as a nationwide priority. According to The Washington Post, a study published in November found that less than 50 percent of Black Americans and 66 percent of Latinx Americans would “definitely or probably get the COVID-19 vaccine” if offered to them for free.
But for now, Yale’s program has been exclusively vaccinating members of its own community. Last week, the University announced in an email that anyone working on campus at the School of Medicine could receive the vaccine within the near future. This cohort would include people who did not work directly with COVID-19 patients or samples.
On Wednesday, the University reversed its decision to vaccinate anyone working on campus at the Medical School. In an email obtained by the News and sent to immunobiology students, the University said that only clinical or research lab staff working with live virus or clinical samples that may contain the virus could get the vaccine during Connecticut’s Phase 1a.
“That changed because of vaccine shortage and because of issues of priorities,” Vermund said. “If you’re a perfectly healthy 30-year-old coming into the lab to work on genetics … and you’re not handling infectious material, it’s a lower priority for you to get the vaccine than a 78-year-old professor.”
Vaccines for University faculty in Phase 1b
On Thursday, Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont announced who qualifies for the next phase. 1.3 million Connecticut residents are now included in Phase 1b, starting with people over 75 years old. The state expects to receive about 46,000 doses per week from the federal government.
Yale professors who are over 75 years old have already been invited to schedule their vaccinations. Professors over 65 years old are part of a later stage of Phase 1b and cannot yet sign up to receive the shot, as the state is staggering Phase 1b rollout.
In an email sent to the entire Yale community on Thursday, Stephanie Spangler, University COVID-19 coordinator, wrote that Yale-affiliated people over 75 years of age are now eligible for vaccines, either through the Yale Vaccination Program at the Lanman Center, the state of Connecticut’s Vaccine Administration Management System or direct scheduling with select hospitals. All who are eligible, regardless of which system they ultimately choose, will receive an email invitation from MyChart, Spangler wrote.
Multiple eligible Yale faculty members told the News that they have not received additional information regarding the vaccination process aside from Spangler’s community-wide email.
James Scott, Sterling Professor Emeritus of political science, wrote in an email to the News that “[Yale Health] simply informed me and others over 75 (I presume) that we were [in] the next tranche for vaccines and that we would get individual invitations to make a vaccine appointment soon through the Yale Health web site ‘My chart.’”
Four faculty who are under 75 and therefore not yet eligible for vaccination in Connecticut told the News that they have not yet been informed of the timeline for when they might receive a vaccine. Like Scott, they have been relying on the community-wide emails for guidance.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s COVID-19 data tracker, over 11 million people in the United States have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine as of Jan. 14.
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