RALEIGH, North Carolina – A sizable group of North Carolina college students will be eligible for a vaccine in April, under the direction of the state Department of Health and Human Services.
When North Carolina drafted its initial COVID-19 vaccine distribution plan in October 2020, college students were listed as a priority, just ahead of the general public. When the schools reopened in August, the cohort proved it had the ability to quickly contribute to community spread and stoke outbreaks through off-campus parties.
But in January, North Carolina removed the group from the priority list amid backlash from state lawmakers and encouragement from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to give a stronger preference to older adults. and those who work in certain job sectors.
On Tuesday, health officials issued a statement saying that college students living on campus or in other congregated settings will be able to receive starting April 7, regardless of their age, health condition or employment status. Students are included in Phase 4b of the state’s COVID-19 vaccination plan, which also includes essential workers who have not yet been vaccinated.
During a news conference Wednesday, the secretary of the state health department, Mandy Cohen, noted that college students who do not live in a dormitory or apartment would receive the vaccine a few weeks later than those who live in more compact living environments.
“We want to prioritize those in congregated settings,” Cohen said. “We know that this is where the virus spreads the fastest, so we are prioritizing. I don’t think there is a big time difference. “
Starting Wednesday, medically vulnerable residents who have long waited for the vaccine and are at least 16 years old can receive an injection if they have at least one of 18 eligible health conditions that can put them at risk for serious illness if they are infect with the virus. People at medical risk and the homeless or incarcerated are the first prioritized populations in Phase 4a. The state is on track to make all remaining adults who are not yet vaccinated eligible by May 1.
Since the beginning of the fall semester, college students have become an important vector of transmission. An increase in cases at UNC-Chapel Hill sparked national attention and led the university to shut down in-person instruction for undergraduates after a week of classes and have students leave their dormitories and return home.
Duke University announced this weekend that it would impose a week-long campus closure after a series of new infections that the university attributed primarily to urgent fraternity activities. The number of COVID-19 cases reported last week almost matched the total number of cases the university recorded for the entire fall semester.
Duke has seen a total of 556 positive cases among students since the beginning of 2021. UNC has reported 666 infected students this year, while North Carolina State University has seen 1,068 positive diagnoses.
Many colleges have begun informing students of their vaccine eligibility. At Elon University, a small private university in Alamance County, the university has a vaccination section on its website that reads: “Students, staff, and faculty are strongly encouraged to get vaccinated where and when available.” , and noted that students in dormitories or apartments are eligible on April 7.
Chris Marsicano, Davidson College professor and director of the College Crisis Initiative, urges additional campuses to provide clear messages to help students understand when they will be eligible for vaccines.
“I know we’ve been telling students for months, ‘Wait. We’re so close, ‘”Marsciano said. “We really are that close now. We are at the end of the fourth quarter. Wait a little longer until you can get that vaccine. “
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Anderson is a member of the staff of the Associated Press / Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on uncovered topics.