Some University of Tennessee students have become eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine, and more will qualify soon.
While the 2020-2021 UT housing contracts briefly mention the possibility of requiring a vaccine for students, the university has since updated that decision.
“The UT system made the decision in January that they would not require the vaccine at that time,” said UT Health Center Director Spencer Gregg. He added that should conditions on campus worsen, he sees requiring the vaccine as a potential policy option.
Knox County is currently entering a new phase of vaccine distribution. This means students studying and working in higher risk situations will soon be eligible for a shot, according to Gregg. He also said that the university is working with the Tennessee Department of Health to administer the vaccine to those who are eligible.
The Centers for Disease Control recommends administering the COVID-19 vaccine in different stages based on age, health conditions and occupation. Ultimately, whether or not someone who is not at-risk qualifies for a vaccine depends on their occupation. Tennessee’s health department is following those recommendations in its own vaccination effort.
As of late last week, Knox County is entering phase 1b of vaccine distribution, meaning childcare workers and K-12 educators are becoming eligible. “If you’re a student in education, and as part of your responsibilities you have to go out and be at a K-12 site to observe and teach, then a student that does that would qualify for 1b,” Gregg said in an interview.
Educators largely agree that they should be first in line. “I think it’s more important that teachers and students and stuff get a vaccine than other people because we have to work around a lot of people and kids, and some young kids can get more sick,” said Zach Slimp, a music education student. He will be eligible before many other students. “The school of ed hasn’t given me any information about vaccines yet, but I talk to some Knox County band teachers every now and again and they say they’re going to get it soon,” he said.
Education students aren’t the only students eligible, however. Those working in the medical field also qualify for the shot as part of previous phases. “My daughter works as a certified nursing student, she’s a UT student, but because of her job-related activities, she qualifies for the vaccine,” Gregg said.
So how does a person who qualifies get a vaccine through the UT Health Center? Those eligible can sign up for a vaccination appointment on the university’s vaccine website. “The plan going through the remainder of the spring semester is that UT affiliated faculty, staff and students will be able to sign up for the vaccine through the Student Health Center during the week,” Gregg said. He added that the University is also holding mass vaccination events on Fridays for the public at the Student Union.
The university has partnered with the Tennessee Department of Health as a Pandemic Response Provider to administer vaccines, Gregg said. Every week, the university requests a certain amount of vaccines from the state, which then ships them out to be administered. The UT Health Center has administered 500 to 700 shots per event so far. “We’re just pumped about being able to get this accomplished,” Gregg said.
Dr. Gregg also pointed out that the university is now receiving its own vaccines straight from the state rather than through the Health Department’s supply. This means other providers should begin offering vaccines soon as well. “You’re going to find that there are going to be multiple pharmacies that will begin advertising that they have the vaccine … probably by the end of the month,” he said.
At last Friday’s event, 900 vaccines were administered.