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Sunday, April 21, 2024 — Houston, TX

Crisis Management Plans Vaccine Rollout for Rice Community

Illustrated by Ndidi Nwosu

By Hajera Naveed and Morike Ayodeji     1/26/21 11:25pm

As administration of the COVID-19 vaccine begins worldwide, Rice is working with the state of Texas to be designated as a vaccine site, according to Vice President of Administration Kevin Kirby, who chairs the Crisis Management Advisory Committee.  

“Our goal is to be able to vaccinate everybody in our community who wants a vaccine. We’re preparing to do up to 10,000 people on the Rice campus, so faculty, students and staff,” Kirby said.

According to Jerusha Kasch, director of Institutional Crisis Management, Rice

is waiting for the state to give them their requested allocation. However, Crisis Management has been preparing for the vaccine roll out for the past six months, starting in mid-August with discussions of preparing a team, more time than they had for planning COVID testing.  

“We have a vaccine plan. We have a mass vaccination plan; we have a small vaccination plan. We have petitioned the state to receive vaccines. We have started to develop a hiring process for vaccine delivering companies,” Kasch said.

According to Kasch, one of these preparations is proving to the state that they are capable of storing the vaccines.

“We had to prepare and get refrigeration systems based upon the types of vaccine. Some vaccines have to be stored at negative 80 degrees [Celsius] and some at negative 20, so we had to prepare for both. We do have all the equipment necessary,” Kasch said.

The timing of vaccination administration on campus depends entirely on the guidelines set out by Texas, according to Kasch. 

“If we get it before the priority groups have been satisfied, we have to follow those priorities as well. Right now [in Texas], we’re in 1A and 1B. Somewhere in the next group is higher education or groups that live together in dense populations like universities and colleges. If we get it and that’s the group we’re in, we don’t have to prioritize. Everyone can sign up at the same time,” Kasch said. 

Crisis Management is unsure if they will receive the full vaccine supply ordered all at once or in a tiered way, according to Kirby.

“There’s only so much we can do. We don’t know what we’re getting, and we don’t know when we’re getting it. It’s just kind of a sit-and-wait situation,” Kasch said.

Kasch explained that accessing the vaccine 

on campus will look similar to the COVID tests. People eligible for the vaccine will schedule a vaccine appointment time, go to our vaccine location at their appointed time, answer all the appropriate vaccine questions and provide their agreement to receive the vaccine. Then, the vaccine will be administered. People will also be able to schedule their second dose appointment at the same time, according to Kasch.

However, if you obtain the first dosage from an outside provider, Kasch said Rice advises that you make arrangements from that same provider to receive the appropriate second dose.

“We don’t know what manufacturer of vaccines we are going to be sent. So, there’s two main manufacturers right now: Pfizer and Moderna. If we receive one and you get the other, we can’t interchange the vaccines, so you have to receive the same manufacturer,” Kasch said.

According to Kasch, the vaccine played no role in the decision to push the return of undergraduates to mid-February nor will it affect the likelihood of any return this semester. However, President Leebron’s letter to the school on Jan. 9 stated that they hope vaccines will arrive sometime in February. 

“The vaccine was not discussed in the decision to push back the return to campus. It was really about just the serious uptick in cases post the holiday events, we had an absolute spike not just in the Houston area but on our campus. It had 100 percent to do with the likelihood of getting sick and we have the strain in Houston that is more commutable that spreads faster,” Kasch said. “We just wanted to really protect our campus and give the city and our campus a little extra time to have that curve flatten out.”

According to Kirby, vaccines will be voluntary this semester, so disease-mitigation practices will continue. However, he anticipates COVID-19 campus policies will likely change a lot for the fall.

“[The vaccines] shouldn’t have any effect on students returning to campus this semester. Even if we have vaccines coming about the same time as students, we are not changing any of our policies this semester. Mask wearing, physical distancing, none of that is going to change because the world doesn’t know how this vaccine is going to react, how long it’s going to last,” Kasch said.

According to the vaccine FAQ section written by the Crisis Management Team, the decision of mandating vaccines for members of the Rice community has not been made yet. An email from Crisis Management sent on Jan. 19 said it will be required “no earlier than the start of the fall semester.”

The Rice University Emergency Medical Services student responders were offered a chance to receive the COVID-19 vaccine from Memorial Hermann Hospital, according to an email obtained by the Thresher from Lisa Basgall, director of REMS. This offer was available to those who were in Houston and would be volunteering for REMS earlier in the semester. 

REMS captain Sam Reddick said that the vaccine was made available to REMS first responders because they provide prehospital emergency medical care to the Rice community, including to those who may have COVID-19, and are therefore included in the first tier of Phase 1A vaccine distribution as defined by the Texas Department of State Health Services and in accordance with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations.

“Along with other emergency service providers, we were grateful our volunteers had the opportunity to receive the vaccine at Memorial Hermann. Some other members have received their vaccines through other providers in the area,” Reddick, a Wiess College senior, said.

Sarah Mozden, a REMS responder, took this as a good opportunity to get the vaccine as soon as possible.

“I am getting it because I know that eventually I’m going to want to have the vaccine, and I feel a lot more comfortable working with REMS and having patient interaction if I do have the vaccine,” said Mozden, a Sid Richardson College junior. 

Some students had an opportunity to receive the COVID-19 vaccine through other means. Kristine Yuan, a sophomore at McMurtry College, was able to receive the vaccine through Houston Methodist as a student volunteer. 

“I wasn’t really surprised when I first got notified that I was getting the vaccine earlier since I assumed that most healthcare workers would get priority to protect both themselves and the patients they’re caring for. I did feel thankful that [Houston Methodist]  took volunteers into consideration as well though,” Yuan said.

Students expressed varying views on taking the vaccine. Lovett College sophomore Thomas Avalos said he has apprehensions about taking the vaccine.

“Kind of just trying to be informed as possible, I personally would not want to take the vaccine, given the amount of time they have had to see the effects on people and just things like that …  I have my doubts about the vaccine,” Avalos said.

Avalos said his stance might change depending on whether taking a vaccine would impact his mode of learning. 

“If it was a ‘you have to take the vaccine or you can’t come on campus’ then I think that might affect my decision about whether or not I would like to continue [classes] strictly online or have classes that are actual sit-down courses,” Avalos said.

Will Rice College freshman Arielle Noah said she feels as though Rice administering the vaccine this semester is ambitious.

Justin Coleman, a Baker College junior,  said he is in favor of required vaccination of students. Coleman believes students will have to assess the risks for themselves in deciding to receive a vaccination if it becomes mandated for campus return.

“I think we just have to trust our experts and if you do think that’s too much of a safety concern for you, you would still be able to take classes online. It’s just a matter of weighing what you think the bigger risk is,” Coleman said.

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