In a Feb. 18 email to the Tufts community, Michael Jordan, university infection control health director, explained Tufts’ plans to continue with Massachusetts’ vaccine rollout plan, which entered Phase 2, Group 2 that day. This group includes individuals 65 years and older, individuals with two or more qualifying medical conditions and those living or working in affordable senior housing.
However, the university did not have — and still does not have — vaccines to offer to those who fell into this group, meaning qualifying individuals have had to find other means to get vaccinated outside of Tufts. Now that Phase 3, which includes the majority of the student community and the general public, is approaching, uncertainty about how Tufts will distribute the vaccine persists.
Marie Caggiano, medical director of Health Service, told the Daily in an email that Tufts has received a very limited number of vaccines to distribute to the community. Massachusetts is currently prioritizing other distribution sites, such as regional vaccine sites and pharmacies, before it distributes supplies to colleges and universities.
“We have vaccinated a small number of individuals to date (approximately 100),” Caggiano said.
Those individuals, per the state’s guidelines, include health care workers, first responders and those who met the relevant state age requirements for each phase. First responders have also received their vaccines through the cities of Somerville and Worcester.
However, Caggiano said that if Tufts does receive vaccines in the future, it is prepared to administer them.
“We are continuing to plan for the potential of administering [the] vaccine once it becomes available to us in larger quantities,” Caggiano said.
Caggiano said that due to both the evolving nature of the state’s vaccination rollout and continued public health guidance, there is generally much uncertainty surrounding Tufts’ vaccination plans.
The Feb. 18 email emphasized that although Massachusetts had moved into Phase 2, Group 2 of vaccinations, Tufts did not have vaccines available to host an on-campus clinic. Eligible members of the community were encouraged to find nearby pharmacies or mass vaccination sites.
One such eligible member of Phase 2, Group 2, Maddie Yost, received her first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine on March 3 through CVS. Yost was eligible for the vaccine because she has postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome, a syndrome that affects the functioning of her autonomic nervous system.
“I woke up at 5 a.m. and went onto this website from CVS … and I went to Massachusetts first, thinking that I wasn’t going to be able to get it because I didn’t know if I qualified as a Massachusetts resident being from New Jersey, but I signed up, and it worked,” Yost, a sophomore, said.
Yost is scheduled to receive her second dose on March 31. She said she was required to display a CVS Pharmacy insurance card to receive her vaccine, which she advised others to do if they are planning to make a vaccination appointment through CVS.
Yost said that with postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome, illnesses make her sicker than the average person. Because of this, she was very concerned about the possibility of contracting COVID-19. Her doctors told her that she would have to leave Tufts once the positivity rate on campus rose above 1% to reduce her risk of contracting the virus. After the increase in cases on campus last fall, she returned home for Thanksgiving break and remained home for the rest of the semester, but is back this semester.
“There’s a sense of relief that I don’t have to be as scared,” Yost said. “I’m definitely going to still be very cautious because even though I won’t get super sick if I get COVID with the vaccine, I could carry it and pass it on to someone else. But I’m definitely very excited that things are getting better.”
Yost added that she has not yet communicated with Tufts about receiving the vaccine since she did not receive it through the university and was never contacted by Tufts about her eligibility. She plans to upload her vaccine information through the immunization portal once she receives her second dose.
Caggiano encouraged students to take advantage of local resources and consult with their local or state public health authorities to learn about vaccination rollout in the areas in which they live, as Yost did, since it is still uncertain when Tufts will receive vaccines.
“If eligible students have not received [the] vaccine before leaving Tufts’ campus this spring, they are encouraged to take advantage of local resources and receive immunization before returning to campus in the summer or fall,” Caggiano said. “The vaccine is not mandatory for students, staff or faculty, although we strongly encourage our community members to be vaccinated.”
Jordan noted that Tufts is prepared to vaccinate hundreds of people per day once supplies become available to the university to do so. He said that the university would use the Gantcher Center as its vaccination site.
Caggiano underlined the importance of vaccination, emphasizing Jordan’s point.
“We can say that since the start of the pandemic, the university has been fully committed to the health and safety of its students, faculty, staff and community members,” Caggiano said. “In that spirit, our vaccination plan will prioritize health and safety, follow guidance from public health authorities, and be equitable in its treatment of the many constituencies within our community.”