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NU: Students, staff likely face long wait for vaccinations

It may take several months just to get people in category 1b vaccinated, school official says.

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Northwestern University is outlining a basic problem of supply and demand when it comes to the coronavirus vaccine: Demand is high, supply is low, at least for now. So sit tight.

In a memo to students, faculty, and staff on Wednesday, Luke Figora, NU senior associate vice president, says “the availability of vaccines across the state remains extremely limited, resulting in only about 5% of individuals receiving immunization.”

Those vaccinated at NU so far are in Illinois category 1a, healthcare workers — faculty, staff, and students exposed to patients in clinical settings.

Figora says it will likely be “at least several more weeks” before there is enough vaccine for Northwestern to open vaccination sites for those just made eligible through category 1b (“frontline essential workers” and those age 65 and over). It may then take “several months” after that for everyone in 1b to receive their shots.

There is no timetable yet for the phase after that, group 1c, those ages 16-64 and workers in certain other categories.

Northwestern does not get vaccines directly. Figora says the federal government allocates doses to state and local health departments, which then determine distribution. Figora says NU is working with the City of Evanston to evaluate potential vaccination sites on campus, both for Northwestern and for the “broader Evanston community.”

While the state’s definition of “frontline essential workers” in category 1b covers school teachers in grades PreK-12, it does not include college professors and instructors. Figora says while the “state’s plan does not specifically address the unique aspects of higher education,” the university is working to prioritize those with an increased risk of COVID-19 exposure due to their work environments.

Supply and demand runs throughout this entire process. For example, NU says the university has more than 1,300 faculty and staff over age 65. Those category 1b members will be ranked by age, older ones getting shots first, because “the number of people in this group is likely larger than the available supply.”

NU will survey university community members by email to determine interest in getting vaccinated.

Figora says there may be other ways to get the COVID shots besides from the university, such as via healthcare systems, pharmacy chains, or the City of Evanston.

He says “we wish the vaccination process was moving faster,” but all of the other now-familiar precautions, from mask-wearing to hand washing are all the more important now. “Let’s all stay vigilant,” he adds, “to maximize the benefit of the vaccine once it is ready for us.”

keywords » COVID-19

Jeff Hirsh

Jeff Hirsh joined the Evanston Now reporting team in 2020 after a 40-year award-winning career as a broadcast journalist in Cincinnati, Ohio.

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