UT-Austin prepares for COVID-19 vaccine distribution, has no plans to make it a requirement

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Photo Credit: Marissa Xiong | Daily Texan Staff

As COVID-19 vaccinations enter the final stages of approval by the federal government, UT is preparing for distribution. 

Jonathan Robb, director of the Office of Emergency Preparedness, said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has stated that health care personnel and long-term care facility workers will be the first to get vaccines. He said UT’s plan will follow the CDC’s guidelines when distributing vaccines. 

"We'll just use what (the CDC’s) phase guidance would be and input that into our constituents, faculty, staff and students,” Robb said. “If they say the next phase is going to be for a specific demographic, we'll just in turn incorporate that into our … framework for the University.” 

Robb said there is currently no plan to require students to be vaccinated in order to return to campus, but UT will be looking at CDC guidelines as they are updated. Robb said part of the plan will be a communication strategy to encourage students to get vaccinated. 

“We still do encourage everybody to get (the vaccine) as it helps with herd immunity and getting beyond this pandemic,” Robb said. 

Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna have both reported over 90% efficacy for their vaccines, and both are awaiting approval from the Food and Drug Administration. In a Wednesday press release, Gov. Greg Abbott said the CDC will distribute over 1.4 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine to Texas the week of Dec. 14.  

Robb said unlike flu vaccinations, which are sent to the CDC first, the COVID-19 vaccine will go straight from the manufacturer to the University. Robb said the CDC will provide the vaccine to the United States population at no cost.

Robb said UT already has some plans in place to distribute vaccines as part of emergency planning the University has done in the past. 

“Part of that response is obviously on the recovery aspect, which would be a vaccination … and how do we distribute it to the some 50,000 students, faculty and staff as well,” Robb said. “Having a large-scale plan is essential for that type of response and recovery.” 

Robb said the University began planning for pandemic response last December, when the coronavirus began to materialize as a threat. 

“We had preplanned meetings with some of our infectious disease experts and determined what our plan was moving forward, and it goes all the way from the mitigation and planning aspects … through the recovery,” Robb said. 

The city of Austin has also started planning for vaccine distribution. Austin Public Health created a COVID-19 vaccine distribution coalition to create a phased approach to distributing a vaccine. The coalition released a set of guidelines for priority populations for the vaccine, including those most vulnerable to the virus and who cannot work from home.

Cassandra DeLeon, interim assistant director of the Disease Prevention and Health Promotion Division for Austin Public Health, said UT is a “key part” of this coalition at a Wednesday press conference. 

“We all, as vaccine providers, have to consider who are the party populations that can be considered for phase one, and noting that the majority of the student population are healthy, young individuals and not necessarily those most vulnerable populations that we’re trying to protect with that initial allocation of vaccine — those are the things we’re looking at,” DeLeon said.