For weeks, students have trekked to vaccination sites in Syracuse and Binghamton, scoured pharmacies in nearby counties or, if they were fortunate, took the TCAT to the Ithaca Mall to receive their COVID-19 vaccine.
Now, students might soon be able to get a vaccine on campus.
As New Yorkers age 16 and older can schedule a vaccine appointment starting April 6, the state health department approved Cornell to be a COVID vaccine distribution location — providing students a more convenient and potentially a more equitable option for receiving their vaccine doses without needing to navigate packed class and work schedules to drive to distant vaccination sites.
President Martha Pollack said Monday at a Graduate and Professional Student Assembly meeting that the University had applied to be a point of distribution.
On Thursday, Frank Kruppa, public health director of Tompkins County, confirmed that the state approved the vaccination site, along with other colleges in the county.
“We’ve applied to be what’s called a point of distribution, so that we can provide vaccinations right here on campus,” Pollack said. “If we can just make it a little longer, the light is shining very brightly now at the end of this very long tunnel.”
According to Kruppa, the state approved Cornell, Ithaca College and Tompkins Cortland Community College to be distribution sites. As vaccine clinics are cropping up everywhere from convention centers to baseball stadiums across the country, New York also gave the green light to set up vaccination centers at primary care practices, substance use providers and other physician offices in the county.
At the time of publication, Kruppa could not provide an exact date for when Cornell was approved to be a vaccine distribution site. The University declined to comment beyond previous University statements at the time of publication.
While Cornell has been approved to distribute vaccines, the University will be limited by the supply of vaccine doses in New York.
“The issue is supply. We don’t have it yet. That’s likely to change in the coming weeks as we get more vaccines and we get more people vaccinated,” Kruppa said. “We are in continual conversations with all of our higher ed institutions about how to make the vaccine most available to the people they serve, not only students but faculty and staff as well.”
When New York has enough vaccines to allocate to the additional sites, the state health department will determine how many vaccines Cornell will receive.
“The state is implementing a distribution plan across New York and they make the determinations on who gets allocated vaccine,” Kruppa said. “As soon as we find out somebody got allocated vaccines, we quickly communicate with them, because we want to make sure that they’re comfortable and have a plan on how it’s going to be administered.”
The number of doses Cornell receives could also determine what the campus distribution site will look like, according to Kruppa. This could take the form of large or small-scale vaccinations on campus, or a partnership with Cayuga Health Systems and Tompkins County Health Department at the mall site.
The availability of vaccine doses may also affect whether Cornell decides to require students to get vaccinated, Ryan Lombardi, vice president of student and campus life, said in an employee open forum on March 13.
An on-campus site could offer vaccinations to students with time constraints or who don’t have access to reliable transportation. Other universities have carried out policies to encourage students to get their vaccine as they look to a residential fall semester — some have mandated vaccination to attend class in the fall and partnered with local health departments, while some are vaccinating students directly on campus.
Rutgers made waves last week as one of the first colleges to require COVID vaccination to take classes in the fall. Similar to Cornell, the New Jersey state university has been approved as a vaccine distribution location, but has yet to receive any doses.
Duke University, located in Durham, North Carolina, announced on March 25 that it will receive enough vaccine doses that the University can vaccinate all students within the coming weeks. Despite securing enough doses for their student body, the administration still encouraged students to explore off-campus vaccination options.
Notre Dame also has promised that all its students can be vaccinated by the end of the semester. The Indiana health department indicated that other colleges and universities in the state would be able to open up campus vaccination sites some time in the coming month.
As colleges shape their fall plans, Yale University announced that its assumptions in preparing for the fall model that at least 70 percent of the community will be vaccinated. Yale will also set up vaccination clinics as necessary.
Cornell has yet to make any public statements on the approval of the vaccination site. However, in an email sent Tuesday, Mary Opperman, vice president and chief human resources officer, and Gary Koretzky, vice provost for academic integration, encouraged Cornellians to get their vaccines off campus.
Opperman and Koretzky directed members of the Cornell community to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention vaccine finder and the Tompkins County Health Department vaccine registry to locate vaccines in the area. The email also lists the state-run vaccination sites in Cortland County, Corning, Binghamton and Syracuse as potential locations for students to get vaccinated.