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Penn's Student Life Committee said they are unsure of when Penn will be able to provide COVID-19 vaccines to students.

Credit: Kylie Cooper

Provost Wendell Pritchett estimated that there is a "50-50 chance" that Penn will be able to launch a COVID-19 vaccination effort for students before the end of the semester at the Board of Trustees meeting on Feb. 25. 

Although the University does not yet know when vaccines will be available for students, Pritchett said it is prepared for quick and seamless distribution, adding that the facilities, tents, staff, and systems in place for the spring COVID-19 testing program are set to be used for vaccine administration.

“We are preparing for the time that we are told that we have vaccines to vaccinate our students,” Pritchett said at the Board of Trustees Student Life Committee session. 

Penn Medicine is currently vaccinating hospital staff in addition to local residents who are eligible under county guidelines, Pritchett said, adding that Penn Medicine vaccinated more than 4,000 people last week. Philadelphia residents who are essential workers, have pre-existing health conditions, and are over the age of 75 are currently eligible to be vaccinated, Pritchett added.

“We’re not vaccinating faculty — we’re vaccinating people who fit those criteria,” Pritchett said. “The guidelines in Philadelphia are different than the guidelines in Montgomery County right outside, and a lot of our community doesn’t live in Philadelphia, so we’re even dealing with more than one set of guidelines.”

The Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania first received doses of the Pfizer vaccine in December 2020. At a town hall held in early December, the Faculty Senate said that priority would be given to health care workers, and that students, faculty, and staff would eventually be able to receive the vaccine free of charge.

“We think that we’ll have [all hospital staff] vaccinated by the end of February — maybe March,” professor of Medicine Harvey Rubin said at the town hall in December.

Provost Wendell Pritchett predicts there is a “50-50 chance” that the Penn will launch "a significant vaccination campaign for students" before the start of the summer. 

The Student Life Committee meeting also covered student disability accommodations and parent and family programming during COVID-19.

Jane Holahan, executive director of the Weingarten Learning Resources Center, discussed current Weingarten initiatives, including the upcoming Annual Disability Symposium, which will be held virtually this year in the form of one-hour presentations on Thursdays in March and April. Topics will include "Understanding the Needs of College Students with Autism" and "Integrating Access and Inclusion into the Remote Learning Environment."

Weingarten is also conducting a feasibility study to identify space for the creation of an academic test center that will include adequate space to ensure accessibility for all students, Holahan said.

Rachel Shearon, director of the Office of Parent Outreach and Development/Penn Parents, discussed how the Penn Parents office — which connects parents and families of undergraduates to the University — has functioned in light of COVID-19. She highlighted PennParents@Home, a series of single-session courses in October through which parents could learn from Penn faculty and gain a better sense of Penn's online education capabilities.

"It was a really great engagement opportunity for parents, but it also allowed them to develop a better understanding of what virtual learning is like at Penn and, not surprisingly, a lot of the participants we surveyed afterward were surprised and impressed by how engaging an online course could be," Shearon said.