University of Virginia students will receive invitations next week to get their COVID-19 vaccinations as school officials try to get shots in the arms of students, staff and faculty before the semester’s end.
University officials said they hope most students will be vaccinated either this spring or over the summer, but stopped short of saying that vaccinations would be required prior to students returning to Grounds for the fall semester.
The student shots follow this week’s invitations and vaccinations for employees and faculty, officials said at a Friday morning virtual press conference.
“We have started extending invitations to faculty and staff this week,” said Wendy Horton, CEO of the UVa Medical Center. “They have either received their vaccinations or have made their appointments and students will likely start getting theirs next week with invitations going out. Students working on Grounds were invited as part of that initial invitation to faculty, staff and contractors.”
Horton said she anticipates other UVa students will receive invitations to make their appointments and start getting their shots beginning Monday.
Officials said they hope most students will get vaccinated before the fall semester begins but said there are no plans to require the shots to return. Horton said FDA licensing of the vaccines would be the trigger for schools to require vaccinations.
“I think what UVa is going to be facing is similar to what a lot of institutions will be facing as we enter into the fall, and it’s a little premature to say exactly what that landscape will look like,” said Dr. Costi Sifri, the UVa Medical Center’s director of hospital epidemiology.
“The first step is that everybody has the opportunity to receive the vaccine. We are in that transition where we are at the precipice of being about to do that,” he said.
Sifri said the school and the community at-large are working to give everyone a shot at a shot.
“The next two months are really going to be important to try and vaccinate everybody who has not had an opportunity to get vaccinated,” he said. “Where we’re at in terms of our community [vaccinations] may inform exactly what kind of measures we consider as we move into the fall.”
Sifri said some schools across the country are putting into place COVID vaccine requirements for students to graduate or enter the school. That could be problematic, however, because the COVID vaccines are available under emergency authorization and not licensed by the Food and Drug Administration.
“In health care, there are requirements for a lot of vaccines — things like measles, mumps and Rubella — so there is a precedent for requiring vaccinations,” he said. “But this is a vaccine that’s under FDA authorization and is not yet licensed, so there could be some legal issues involved with a requirement.”
Sifri said the licensing and legal issues are an important technicality when making the shots a requirement, but praised the efficacy of the vaccines from Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson.
“We understand that vaccination is the best way to get past this pandemic. These vaccines are incredibly effective,” he said. “The efficacy rates are 90% for some of them and, more importantly, they are all nearly 100% effective at preventing the outcomes of COVID that we need to prevent — hospitalization, intensive care and death. It’s incumbent on us to get this vaccine out and encourage vaccination for everybody we can.”
As vaccinations increase across the region, officials said the number of COVID inpatients at the Medical Center has held steady at around 20 people a day for about five weeks. Those patients are divided almost evenly between intensive care and acute care units.
Horton said statistics show the Blue Ridge Health District and UVa have been able to provide vaccinations to a representative demographic.
“I’m really proud of how we’ve been able to match the demographics within our community. It’s been remarkable the work that’s gone on to make sure we represent underserved communities,” Horton said.
“We’ve done an excellent job with Latinx and Black communities and have been able to vaccinate them in the same percentage as they are represented in the community,” she said. “It’s something we, as a community, should really be proud of.”
“This has been a concerted effort,” said Dr. Reid B. Adams, interim chief medical officer at UVa. “We have had a lot of intention in the effort to reach all the communities in the area. It has not been seen in other parts of the state and the country and we need to continue the effort.”