Last December, when the FDA approved the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines, waves of relief and excitement resounded around the globe as people glimpsed the promise of a COVID-free future. Immediately following the excitement and daydreaming, however, came the scramble: everyone wanted to get vaccinated, but at first, very few actually did or even could. In Pennsylvania, only group 1A (which consists of essential workers, people 65 and older, and high-risk individuals) could initially access the vaccine.
Regardless, Haverford began its efforts to vaccinate the community as soon as possible. In January, Pennsylvania outlined a process for institutions and organizations to become vaccine providers called Closed Points of Dispensing (PODs) in its “COVID-19 Interim Vaccination Plan.” Haverford immediately signed up “with no promise that we would ever get vaccines to distribute, but just raising our hands to say, ‘Hey! Sure, we’d like to be able offer the vaccine if possible,’” said Jesse Lytle, Haverford’s Vice President and Chief of Staff.
At the front lines of Haverford’s vaccination efforts was Director of Clinical Services Kathy McGovern. After requesting that the college become a POD, she constantly monitored the health departments for Montgomery County and Chester County (which manages public health on behalf of Delaware County). Speaking to these departments on a routine basis—or as McGovern calls it, “harassing” them—she asked questions like, “Would they be able to provide us [vaccines]? Would they be able to come to campus? What can we do to expedite these things?”
Unfortunately, the state of Pennsylvania and both Montgomery and Delaware counties began to fall behind in vaccine distribution. The hope of becoming a POD started to dwindle, and McGovern had to continue searching for alternatives.
On April 15, as soon as the opportunity to be vaccinated opened up for group 1B, which includes higher education educators and people in congregate settings such as college campuses, “I pounced,” says McGovern, who immediately reached out to Montgomery County. They, in turn, suggested she contact retail pharmacy chains.
“It’s only because Kathy had a good relationship and an open channel with our regional Rite Aid [representative] that when they had doses, Kathy was on it,” said Lytle.
“So I reached out to Rite Aid and [they] said yes!” added McGovern.
The struggle, however, did not end there. Despite Rite Aid’s promise of 1,500 first doses, Haverford now had many concerns to calm and logistics to sort out. Fears of students and faculty having adverse reactions to the vaccine began to emerge. After navigating through legal bureaucracy and establishing myriad backup and emergency plans, Haverford faced a greater enemy still: misconceptions about the vaccine. Some students worried that they would test positive for COVID after receiving the vaccine and none wanted to have to quarantine on a false positive. McGovern quickly sought to dispel these qualms, noting that they were “a huge misnomer”. (The Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna mRNA vaccines do not contain the virus and cannot cause COVID.)
Luckily, during the clinics, everything went “amazingly smoothly,” according to Lytle.
On April 7, when Haverford held its first clinic, demand for the 500 Pfizer doses was far higher than supply. But by April 14, the opposite was true for the 500 Moderna doses available. This allowed Haverford to vaccinate a far wider range of community members.
“We expanded our scope when we realized that there was extra capacity, so after we gave all faculty, staff, and students a head start and multiple reminders and we still had extra doses, we opened it up first to family members of employees living on campus—so folks within the geographic bubble of the campus were the next priority tier in our community. Then, we still had extra doses after that group, so we opened it up to family members or household members of employees living on or off campus,” says Lytle.
The college distributed 900 doses during the first two vaccine clinics, with the guarantee of 900 second doses in weeks to come. Furthermore, the state of Pennsylvania has now allowed Haverford to become a POD, but the school had to place that opportunity on hold given their successful partnership with Rite Aid.
By April 14, the Haverford community only signed up for under 30% of that week’s vaccination slots, although it’s not clear whether that decline was due to vaccine hesitancy or the fact that many community members had already been immunized prior to Haverford making the vaccine available on campus. That led the school to cancel its third clinic and encourage community members still looking for the shot to go to Rite Aid directly.
According to the most recent data from Health Services, two-thirds of Haverford students have received at least one dose of the vaccine. It is uncertain what fraction of those students is on-campus or remote, but the news bodes well for Haverford’s future—especially considering that the school will likely require vaccinations (with some exceptions) of students who want to return to campus in the fall. Students staying at Haverford for the summer are already required to be vaccinated.
Surrounding colleges have followed Haverford’s lead on vaccinating their community members, with Bryn Mawr holding a vaccination clinic on April 19 and Swarthmore doing the same the next day.
During a pandemic when the odds never seemed to be in our favor, Haverford’s vaccination clinic proved a much needed source of hope. Kathy McGovern may be exhausted, but her hard work has earned students’ gratitude and respect. For her part, McGovern says that “students really need to pat themselves on the back… They’ve really come through… I don’t know what more you could possibly ask from the students.”
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