The City of Philadelphia has approved the University as an official COVID-19 vaccination site, paving the way for Penn community members to receive vaccines on campus in the coming weeks.
Penn will likely receive its first allotment of doses from the city in mid-April, and will begin vaccinating community members who qualify to receive the vaccine under Phases 1A and 1B of the city's vaccination rollout plan as soon as the shipment arrives. The majority of students, however, will not qualify to receive the COVID-19 vaccine until May 1, when the city plans to shift to Phase 2 of the vaccination rollout.
Chief Wellness Officer Benoit Dubé said Penn is currently in the process of preparing for the on-campus rollout, adding that many details of the plan remain up in the air. He said Penn is planning to convert Gimbel Gymnasium in the Pottruck Health and Fitness Center into a vaccination site, and that the University will send out a vaccine interest form to the Penn community later this week in an effort to judge how many doses to order.
One of the largest pieces that remains unknown is what kind of vaccine the University will distribute, Dubé said, as it is completely dependent upon what the city is able to provide. Since the Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson vaccines come with a number of different variables, Penn is preparing for a variety of scenarios.
The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are both two-dose vaccines that require three and four weeks, respectively, in between doses, while the Johnson & Johnson is a one-dose vaccine.
For many students, the difference in vaccines is incredibly consequential, as the final day of the spring semester is May 11 and, as it currently stands, the first date the majority of students could receive the vaccine is May 1.
Dubé said the University will work strategically, depending on which vaccine the city provides, to get vaccines in the arms of students before many return home for the summer.
"We might be forced to have one cohort receiving a two-dose vaccine, which would likely be composed of faculty and staff, and another cohort that would receive the single-dose [Johnson & Johnson] vaccine and, because of where we are in the semester, this would make sense to be students," he said. "This is just one possible scenario, and we are preparing for as many scenarios as possible."
Penn community members who want to receive the vaccine must also be able to show proof of residency in Philadelphia, regardless of which phase they qualify under. Students do not need to prove residency, however, and instead must simply prove they attend the University due to their "unique situation as college students," Dubé said.
While many details remain unconfirmed, Director of Campus Health Ashlee Halbritter said Penn community members with a red PennOpen Pass will not be able to receive the vaccine for the duration of the time they have a red PennOpen Pass.
Dubé also said it is too early to say whether the University will require all students to receive the vaccine before returning to campus for the fall semester, which Penn is planning to hold in person. Other colleges, including Rutgers University, have announced they will require students to receive the COVID-19 vaccine prior to returning to campus in the fall. He added that the vaccines are only approved under Emergency Use Authorization and, thus, the vaccine cannot be mandated.
"Requiring students to be vaccinated this fall is definitely on the table," he said. "It is just far too early for us to make that call."