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Vaccines on the Horizon for College Staff, But Won’t Affect Spring Plans

As Haverford enters its third COVID-disrupted semester, one feeling still looms large on campus: When will this end? Vaccines promise a glimmer of hope, but given the current prioritization in Pennsylvania, supply limitations mean that relatively few community members are likely to get a shot before the end of the semester.

On January 20, the Operations Planning Group, charged with managing the COVID-19 response at Haverford, announced that it was unknown when Haverford would be able to vaccinate its employees and students. As a result, the spring 2021 semester will carry out most of the same COVID-19 protocols as fall 2020.

Vice President and Chief of Staff Jesse Lytle reiterated in an email interview on February 12 that “health protocols like masking and distancing are unlikely to change until public health authorities determine there is widespread herd immunity.”

In a December 24 interview with NBC News, Dr. Anthony Fauci estimated that the herd immunity range for COVID-19 will require 70% to 85% of people to be vaccinated, a threshold that the US is currently on pace to hit between November and December 2021, although a ramp-up in vaccine production could push that date forward.

Even given the forecast for fall 2021, Lytle warned, “We should be prepared to keep up universal masking, distancing and frequent handwashing through the 2021 calendar year and perhaps beyond.”

Other variables could speed up or slow down the vaccination process on campus. The Operations Planning Group also announced that Haverford has applied to be a Vaccine Provider Site. If that application is granted, Haverford would be able to use its infrastructure to vaccinate members of the college community, including students, potentially accelerating the process.

Details on the process of becoming a Vaccine Provider Site are sparse, but “[the Operations Planning Group] is hopeful that Haverford will eventually be approved,” said Lytle.

In a broader context, Pennsylvania’s vaccine rollout is slightly below the national average, so most county health departments in Pennsylvania are still on the first stage of their vaccine rollout: Group 1A. This group includes healthcare workers, people living in long-term care facilities, people over age 65, and people aged 16–64 with certain high-risk conditions.

This means that most workers at Haverford College are not currently eligible to get vaccinated. According to Kelly Cofrancisco, a spokeswoman for Montgomery County, janitorial staff, Dining Services workers, and other essential college personnel will have to wait until vaccines become available for Group 1B. Professors teaching in-person classes will also be eligible under the “Education workers” designation in Group 1B.

In an email interview, Cofrancisco estimated it will take at least 11 weeks to move onto Group 1B at the current pace, citing constraints on the vaccine supply. However, Cofrancisco also said she “expects the vaccine supply will increase significantly with the approval of new vaccines and ramped-up production,” which signals that many of Haverford’s essential workers could be vaccinated this spring.

Most students, on the other hand, will have to wait until the vaccine becomes widely available to healthy adults under age 65. Dr. Fauci has projected that this could arrive as soon as late May or June, meaning that Haverford is unlikely to play a significant role.

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