Brandeis hosts COVID vaccination clinics for students, faculty and staff

Brandeis is first university in Massachusetts to offer clinics since all state residents and students became eligible

student receives a vaccinePhoto/Autumn Brown

A student receives his COVID-19 vaccine

Inside the sun-filled Zinner Forum at the Heller School of Social Policy and Management, dozens of students sat in appropriately-distanced chairs with band-aids on their shoulders. They had just received doses of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine as part of Brandeis’ vaccine clinic, the first at a Massachusetts university since everyone over 16 became eligible on April 19.

Xavier Butler ’23, a Health: Science, Society and Policy Policy and African and African American Studies double major, said that if he hadn’t received the vaccine at Brandeis, he would have had to wait until he went home to Stone Mountain, Georgia, after the semester.

“It feels good,” he said, as he prepared to get his shot.

Leora Kelsey ’23, an applied math and computer science major, was in a similar situation; without transportation, getting to other vaccination sites off campus wasn’t going to work, and she was anticipating going home to Maryland for the summer without the vaccine.

“Now, I’m going to be vaccinated,” she said.

The clinic, running four days from April 22 through April 26, and open to students, faculty and staff, was the result of months of planning and coordination. Brandeis administrators worked on two fronts: administrators in the Health Center in partnership with Information Technology Services did the significant systems work needed to tie into the state’s vaccination program to be ready to obtain vaccines through the state’s allocation, if that became available. 

Simultaneously Morgen Bergman, COVID-19 Testing Program director and Assistant Provost for Strategic Initiatives, worked with an independent, Waltham-based pharmacy, PelMeds, that was working with the CDC to obtain vaccines directly from the federal government.

The partnership with PelMeds turned out to be the quickest path to the vaccine. On Friday, April 16, Bergman learned from PelMeds’ President Bhuren Patel that Brandeis would get a shipment of 1,170 vaccines the following week.

“It was incredibly exciting to finally get the news we’d been waiting for,” Bergman said. “At the same time, it was frustrating to know that we could only vaccinate a portion of the campus.”

Top leaders at Brandeis determined — given the proximity of students living in the residence halls — residential students should have the first opportunity to sign up. After some initial glitches when the sign-up site went live, more than 600 students had made appointments by the end of the day on Sunday.

Siena DeBenedittis is prepped for a vaccine
Photo/Julie Jette

Siena DeBenedittis ’21 is prepped for a vaccine

Then on Monday, PelMeds learned it would receive another 1,100 doses for Brandeis to use in its clinic.

“Being able to open the clinics to all students, and then to all faculty and staff, has been so gratifying,” Bergman said. “Seeing members of our community come in so excited to get vaccinated made the months of effort worthwhile.”

The partnership between Brandeis and PelMeds isn’t a boon only to the Brandeis community.

PelMeds, which has decades of experience providing medications to congregate settings like nursing homes and adult group homes, and directly to patients in their homes, hadn’t worked with colleges before. But after Bergman and Patel connected, and Patel began working through PelMeds’ national purchasing group to get vaccines from the CDC, Bergman put him in touch with other Massachusetts colleges and universities.

In the next few days and weeks, registered nurses and pharmacists working with PelMeds will vaccinate students at Amherst, Boston College, Boston University, Hampshire, Holy Cross, Mt. Holyoke, Smith, Tufts, Wellesely and Worcester Polytechnic Institute. Thanks to these partnerships, PelMeds has been able to obtain 24,000 first and second dose vaccines from the CDC for Massachusetts college students. 

Samuel Barbarawi ’24, who plans to major in biology and the Health, Science and Society Program, had been working in Brandeis’ COVID-19 testing sites since October, and signed up right away to work in the vaccination clinic. Additionally, staff from all over the university — from professors, to librarians, to senior administrators — all took time out of their schedules to staff the clinic.

“It’s really exciting, and I feel like I’m contributing to the community by getting people vaccinated so we can slow down the pandemic and hopefully end it,” he said. “I think this is a great opportunity that Brandeis is offering the vaccine here.”

Siena DeBenedittis ’21, an English and environmental studies major from Queens, said she was looking forward to the vaccine enabling her to feel comfortable with some activities she used to take for granted.

“I thought about riding a train [again] the other day and just got so excited,” she said. 

She added that she hoped people who are skeptical or worried about getting vaccinated would remember it isn’t just for their own protection, but for the protection of others, and for the hope of a return to something more like normal.

“I know people are super anxious to get back to normal,” she said. “The more people that do this, the faster that will be.”

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