Now that the COVID-19 vaccine is available nationwide to everyone 16 years of age and older, it is time for colleges and universities to prepare to put plans into action. For some institutions, these plans may include a vaccination program.
This article provides an overview of guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for vaccination programs, including guidance for on-campus and off-campus vaccinations, and general considerations for institutions of higher education.
On-site Vaccination Programs
Some schools may be eligible to offer a COVID-19 vaccination program on-campus. These programs provide free vaccines which generally are distributed through the student health center, school-run temporary vaccination clinics, or mobile vaccination clinics brought to the school. In many cases, schools are partnering with their local health departments to bring these programs to the campus. For example, the University of Colorado Boulder recently had a mobile vaccine clinic for students, staff, faculty, and the Boulder community.
These programs can ease the process for students to receive a COVID-19 vaccine by removing potential barriers. A vaccinated campus can create benefits for maintaining a healthy student population, reducing outbreaks, and improving student retention.
Considering an On-Campus Program
Schools should consider an on-campus vaccination program if they have:
- A large number of students studying on-campus or living in on-campus housing
- An ability to enroll with their jurisdiction’s immunization program as a vaccination provider, including appropriately training staff or engaging with an enrolled vaccine provider
- A location with enough space to stand up a vaccination clinic while maintaining social distancing through the entire process, from screening to post-vaccination observation. See CDC guidance for temporary vaccination clinics for more detail.
Planning An On-Campus Vaccination Program
For schools considering implementing a COVID-19 vaccination program, the planning process should include input from the student health center, risk management, Human Resources, and students. When planning, schools should:
- Contact the health department in their jurisdiction for guidance and to learn more about eligibility.
- Consider partnering with a community vaccination provider. These providers typically deliver flu vaccination services and are expanding to provide COVID-19 vaccination. They generally have trained nursing staff available in all jurisdictions, can bill insurance for administration fees and can report vaccine administration data to immunization registries.
- Ensure vaccination providers are prepared to monitor for and manage potential anaphylaxis after vaccination.
- Ensure clinics offer vaccination at no charge.
- Provide easy access to vaccination for all students, regardless of whether they are studying full or part-time or whether they are commuting or living on campus.
- Offer more than one opportunity for vaccination. Mobile clinics can return to campus multiple times on a rotating schedule.
Not all schools will be able to offer an on-campus vaccination program, and in some cases, it simply may not be feasible or the best option. Regardless, schools can play a key role in helping students get vaccinated in their communities.
Considering Off-campus Vaccinations
Schools should consider off-site vaccination if they:
- Are a small institution that does not have the resources to host a vaccination clinic
- Have primarily online students
- Have a student population who would prefer vaccination in a community clinic rather than a school-run clinic
Planning Off-campus Vaccinations
Schools can consider off-campus options in their community. These include:
- Mobile or temporary vaccination clinics set up at community locations (closed or open to the public)
- Pharmacies enrolled in the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program
- Hospitals and healthcare provider offices
- Federally qualified health centers and other community clinics
Schools not hosting a vaccination clinic on-campus can consider other steps to encourage vaccination:
- Support transportation to off-campus vaccination clinics, such as by paying fares for taxis or ride-sharing services, ensuring students can maintain social distancing. Check with your health department(s) about potential assistance, such as a mobile clinic or transportation support.
- Some jurisdictions have screening requirements to ensure that only those who are eligible are vaccinated. Be sure to let students know what they will need to bring with them to be vaccinated (e.g., student ID or a voucher).
- Distribute communications to students (e.g., newsletters, emails, social media, and school portals) about the importance of COVID-19 vaccination, as well as how and where to get the vaccine in the community.
- Educate and help students who are eligible for vaccination make their appointments through available channels.
- Make sure students know the COVID-19 vaccine is provided free of charge. They should not be asked to pay any fee, including a vaccine administration fee, and cannot be denied a vaccine if they do not have insurance coverage. Providers may bill their insurance plan or program for the administration fee if they have insurance.
- Identify other potential barriers unique to your institution and implement policies and practices to address them.
Student Vaccination Program Considerations
Whether offering an on-campus vaccination program or encouraging students to become vaccinated in the community, there are some general considerations for schools, listed below
Building Confidence in COVID-19 Vaccines
Schools can play a key role in building students’ confidence about COVID-19 vaccines. Vaccine confidence is the trust that students have in:
- Recommended vaccines
- Providers who administer vaccines
- Processes and policies that lead to vaccine development, licensure or authorization, manufacturing, and recommendations for use
Schools can build vaccine confidence by making confidence visible. Consider these steps:
- Encourage student ambassadors to be vaccine champions. These students should reflect the diversity of your student population. Invite them to share with other students their personal reasons for getting vaccinated and remind other students why it is important to be vaccinated.
- Communicate transparently to all students about vaccination.
- Create a communication plan. Share key messages with students through posters in common, emails, and other channels. Emphasize the benefits of protecting themselves, their peers, their families, and their community. This fact sheet is available in numerous languages.
- Provide regular updates on topics like the benefits, safety, side effects, and effectiveness of vaccination, and clearly communicate what is not known.
Schools should also be prepared to allow time for vaccine confidence to grow. Students who are hesitant at first may become more confident after seeing their peers get vaccinated.
Scheduling Student Vaccinations
Some students may experience side effects, which are normal signs that their body is building protection. These side effects may affect their ability to do daily activities, but they should go away in a few days. The CDC encourages schools to provide flexible policies for those who may be unable to attend class due to post-vaccination symptoms.
Schools that choose to offer a vaccine program should be prepared to respond to students with exemptions:
- Medical exemptions—Some people may be at risk for an adverse reaction because of an allergy to one of the vaccine components or a medical condition. This is referred to as a medical exemption.
- Religious exemptions—Some people may decline vaccination because of a religious belief. This is referred to as a religious exemption.
Schools should consider whether vaccination programs fit into their return-to-school and any school vaccination plans. After students are fully vaccinated, they may be able to start doing some things they had stopped doing because of the pandemic. However, even after students receive a COVID-19 vaccine, they may still need to continue to take steps to protect themselves and others. For more information about eligibility to host a student vaccination program, check with your local health officials. Schools can also review CDC resources with up-to-date information regarding student vaccination programs.
This blog is not intended to be exhaustive, nor should any discussion or opinions be construed as professional advice. © 2021 Zywave, Inc. Academic HealthPlans, Inc. All rights reserved.