Vaccines and the fall: A peek at what to expect

St. John’s University will be mandating COVID-19 vaccinations for students who are returning to campus for classes this fall, joining a growing number of colleges and universities across the country who have implemented this measure. University President Rev. Brian J. Shanley, O.P., announced via internal communication (IC) last week that students must be vaccinated prior to their return and must provide proof of vaccination to the University since “the COVID-19 vaccine is available nationwide to anyone aged 16 and over.” 

Those exempt are students with documented medical conditions, those exempt on behalf of religious beliefs and students who will be enrolled in fully-online courses Fall 2021, according to the IC. University Spokesperson Brian Browne told the Torch on April 27 that the University will be delivering a majority of its courses in-person this fall while still providing some students “academic program delivery in an online learning format.”

The University received over 1,000 doses of Pfizer and BioNTech’s vaccine early this week and as of Monday evening, 650 students were registered to receive the first dose of the vaccine on Wednesday, April 27. The on-campus vaccination site will be located inside of Taffner Field House, the same site where COVID-19 testing has taken place since the beginning of the Spring 2021 semester

Students who registered to receive the Pfizer vaccine on campus will receive vaccines administered by “members of the College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences that are licensed to administer the vaccine,” Browne told the Torch on April 25. 

As of Tuesday night, nearly 232 million COVID-19 vaccinations have been administered to adults in the United States.

“The CDC, the NYS Department of Health, and the NYC Department of Health along with medical experts have consistently stated that it is critical to the health and well-being of all to be vaccinated as quickly as possible,” Browne told the Torch Tuesday evening. “Like our long-existing immunization requirements, the University sees the decision to require students to have a COVID-19 vaccination as essential to ensuring the health and well-being of our students, the broader University, and our neighboring community.”

Students that received the first dose of the Pfizer vaccine are required to return to campus the week following final exams in order to receive the second dose. The University has not stated whether it will be offering students any other opportunities to receive vaccinations on-campus prior to or during the Fall 2021 semester. 

Photo editor Sara Kiernan after receiving her COVID-19 vaccination. (TORCH PHOTO/ SARA KIERNAN)

Vaccinations, however, do not indicate a change to precautionary measures already in place at the University. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has updated its guidance for fully vaccinated individuals, stating that those that are fully vaccinated can gather indoors with small groups of other fully vaccinated people. The guidance for medium or large gatherings remains the same, and thus the University will still require limited classroom capacity, social distancing and mask-wearing on campus. 

Over on the West Coast, other universities such as San Diego State University and University of California Davis are waiting until at least one of the leading COVID-19 vaccines are fully FDA-approved before implementing a mandate. 

“Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, all campus policies and protocols at St. John’s are formed and implemented by public health guidelines and best practices,” Browne said. “The health and well-being of our students, faculty, administrators, and staff — is always the highest priority of St. John’s, and, will remain so as — together — we move beyond the COVID-19 crisis.”

While students have somewhat of an understanding of what to expect this upcoming fall, they are still awaiting further clarification as to what the return to campus will look like for others, including professors. The University did not comment on whether University faculty and staff will also be subject to the same vaccine mandate, but St. John’s offered a pop-up vaccination site to employees in late March where 450 employees received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. 

“Additional communications with details on processes and campus protocols for the fall 2021 semester will be shared soon,” Browne said.