After the Food and Drug Administration approved the emergency use of two COVID-19 vaccines, Northwestern Senior Associate Vice President and Chief Risk and Compliance Officer Luke Figora said that as of now the University does not plan to distribute the vaccine.
“Based on what we know right now, Northwestern would not be receiving any direct shipments of vaccines in the near future,” Figora said. “It's all being run as a nationalized distribution strategy with the healthcare systems and obviously, large pharmacy chains. So right now, there's no plans to disseminate it to private organizations.”
Northwestern is coordinating with Evanston, Cook County and Illinois’s Department of Public Health in its vaccination plans. The FDA recently authorized two COVID vaccines for emergency use, one from Pfizer and BioNTech and the other from Moderna.
Northwestern Medicine has begun vaccinating employees, and Figora said some members of the Northwestern community, including those at the Feinberg School of Medicine who are also healthcare workers, could begin receiving the vaccine as well. Staff at Northwestern’s Health Services in Searle Hall would either receive the vaccine through Northwestern Medicine or the City of Evanston’s local roll out in the healthcare sector.
The Center for Disease Control released a Vaccination Program Interim Playbook on Oct. 29 that outlined the multi-phase COVID vaccination process. It identified college students as a “critical population” because they are part of a group that is at “increased risk of acquiring or transmitting COVID-19.” Because of this classification as a critical population, college students could potentially vault ahead of the broader population of healthy adults in line to receive the vaccine, though this is only speculation.
“We'll follow the CDC protocols, and when our populations are identified, we will be in line and work closely with EDPH on that distribution strategy,” Figora said. “But so far, we haven't received any direct communication about the exact timeline associated with vaccine distribution for college students.”
Because it is still early in the vaccine roll out process, it is unknown if students are more likely to receive the vaccine through Evanston’s distribution effort or through efforts in their local areas.
In terms of requiring the vaccine in order to attend Northwestern, Figora said the University is weighing several factors in making that decision.
“One is obviously, it's hard to mandate something until it's [more widely] available,” Figora said. “And then second, there are some questions just about whether you can mandate a vaccine that may have been approved through an accelerated process.”
He reiterated that it is still very early, and the University is not likely to decide on that issue soon.
Other logistical questions the University is considering involves how to record, if at all, who is vaccinated through efforts unrelated to Northwestern.
“Should Northwestern know about that? Would that change the way you would be tested? Would that change the way you might be contact-traced in the event of a positive case?” Figora listed. “There are a lot of operational questions there that will start to become more important as more people sporadically move into the vaccination status.”
Figora said plans for Winter Quarter still include strict measures to limit the spread of the virus even as some people get vaccinated because of age, status as an essential worker or other reasons.
“Everything we're hearing is it's going to be a coordinated public health rollout strategy,” he said. “And we will be part of that. And we'll partner with the city of Evanston and city of Chicago and play a role in distribution wherever we can.”
*Article thumbnail taken from the CDC's COVID-19 Vaccination Program Interim Playbook.