Students may be wondering when they will be eligible to receive one of the coveted COVID-19 vaccines. As of March 12, the state of Wisconsin has administered over 1.8 million vaccine doses and the emergency use authorization of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine will further improve availability.

Twenty-four point four percent of Dane County residents have completed the vaccine series and roughly 6,000 doses have been administered to University of Wisconsin students and employees. But this means there is still a long way to go before all 19,000 employees and over 45,000 students on campus receive the vaccine.

When will I become eligible?

A town hall discussion hosted by University Health Services on March 4 offered some promising points of clarity regarding UW’s plan to distribute vaccines.

Dr. Devlin Cole, preventative health resident at UHS, said during the town hall UW employees will be vaccinated by the Summer while students will be vaccinated by the Fall. Cole said this is a conservative estimate, which will be updated as vaccine supply becomes more predictable.

According to UHS officials hosting the town hall, the university is poised to follow federal and state guidelines for vaccine distribution, so some people will need to wait longer than others. Through Wisconsin’s eligibility criteria includes a wide range of individuals, UHS is only currently offering vaccines to students and employees who have direct patient-care roles, have direct exposure to the virus or virus samples, are 65+ years of age, or are employed by the University of Wisconsin Police Department.

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UHS officials did not disclose the process they are using to check the eligibility of individual students and employees. Students who have reported receiving vaccines include UHS employees and members of health sciences programs.

Jake Baggott, executive director of UHS, said during the town hall vaccination will not be mandatory to participate in future campus activities. Instead, he emphasized the importance of making an educated decision to receive the vaccine based on its ability to help protect you and others in your community.

How will I know I am eligible?

UW will determine peoples’ eligibility based on vaccine availability and priority group status. Individuals who become eligible will receive an email from UHS to let them know they are eligible. Then, they will need to log into their MyUHS account to schedule an appointment.

Many members of the campus community have already made appointments through UHS with little difficulty. This, however, is not true for everyone.

A house fellow, who shared their experience under the condition of anonymity because they were not given permission to speak to the media, became eligible as a member of the extended 1B phase on March 1. They were unable to schedule vaccine appointments through UHS, which is only vaccinating certain priority groups.

Full-time staff let house fellows know they were always free to schedule their vaccine appointment with Walgreens pharmacy, the house fellow said, adding this posed unique challenges as there were few appointments available in the Madison area.

The house fellow said they knew of coworkers who rented cars to travel to Milwaukee where appointments were available, which they felt was unfair. They heard of one case where a student employee traveled to their appointment and was denied a vaccine upon arrival due to an issue with insurance.

Additionally, the house fellow said some UW Housing employees who were eligible for vaccination do not have jobs that regularly require them to be on campus.

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Housing provided house fellows with a letter listing positions having direct contact with students to serve as proof for vaccine eligibility. The letter included roles that do not necessarily require direct student contact including Residence Life Coordinator and Assistant Director of Residence Life.

“I found it unfair that our supervisors and housing pro-staff were able to get vaccine appointments before us when we’re the ones that share common spaces with residents, have to be in close contact and live with them simply just to do our jobs,” the house fellow said. “Our pro-staff is almost never in contact with residents and they’re the ones that have quicker access to appointments?”

Meridith McGlone, Director of News and Media Relations for UW, provided a response to this statement. McGlone said UHS is not currently receiving enough vaccines to provide appointments to all who are eligible.

“As soon as house fellows and other Residence Life employees became eligible, we let them know that they had the option to seek vaccination off-campus at no cost, from community providers such as Walgreens. We have shared the Walgreens vaccination information with our house fellows and have provided documentation to help them prove eligibility. Many house fellows and career staff have now received their first dose through off-campus providers.”

McGlone said that student Housing employees may schedule appointments with UHS starting on Monday, March 22.

What is next after I schedule an appointment?

After scheduling an appointment with UHS, individuals will need to complete a short consent form that describes the risks of vaccination. According to the CDC, consent forms are standard procedure for all types of vaccines.

UHS officials at the town hall said the Nicholas Recreation Center is the main site of vaccine administration on campus. Translators and other support services will be available by request during appointments. According to CDC guidance, vaccine recipients may be asked to wait for 15 to 30 minutes to monitor for adverse reactions. UHS officials at the town hall said they do not have plans to expand vaccine clinics to other locations at this time.

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Depending on which vaccine is administered, the recipient may need to schedule a second appointment to complete the series. The second dose of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are administered 21 and 28 days after the first dose, respectively. UHS officials at the town hall said scheduling the second appointment will follow the same procedure as scheduling the first.

According to current CDC guidelines, being vaccinated does not mean people can drastically change their behavior. Public health officials emphasize the importance of continuing to protect oneself and others by wearing a mask, maintaining social distancing and regularly washing hands. Additionally, those experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 infection will still need to self-isolate and get tested even if they have been vaccinated.

Benefits of receiving the vaccine include the ability to visit with other fully vaccinated people indoors without wearing masks, visit with unvaccinated people of the same household who are at low risk of severe illness and no longer needing to quarantine after virus exposure if asymptomatic.