Penn administered the first COVID-19 vaccines at its on-campus vaccination site on Wednesday, marking a monumental step towards the University's planned reopening for the fall semester.
A select group of Penn community members — including faculty, staff, and postdoctoral students who are Philadelphia residents as well as residential advisors and graduate associates — are eligible to receive the vaccine at Pottruck Health and Fitness Center's Gimbel Gymnasium, top Penn administrators wrote in email announcements to the eligible groups. The entirety of the Penn community, including all students, are eligible to receive the vaccine on campus on April 19, when the city of Philadelphia begins vaccinating all adults.
Vaccination appointment times for the week of April 19, when all students will become eligible for the vaccine, will be released on the scheduling platform by Friday afternoon, Chief Wellness Officer Benoit Dubé said.
2019 College graduate Amanda Geiser, who works as The Wharton People Analytics research coordinator, was among the first Penn community members to be inoculated on Wednesday. She said the entire process took less than 30 minutes, and she never had to wait in any line.
"[The process] seemed like a well-oiled machine already, which is really impressive, since this is the site's first day," Geiser said.
Assistant professor of History Anne Berg also found the process to be smooth and efficient.
"[The nurses and health care workers] were super friendly and were as excited to administer the vaccine as I was to get the vaccine," Berg said. "I'm not sure if excitement is just contagious, but it was a great experience."
Both Berg and Geiser said the only inconvenience they experienced with the vaccination process was when scheduling appointments.
The University is using the same scheduling platform for COVID-19 vaccinations as COVID-19 testing, which Geiser described as slightly confusing. She was initially concerned that she had signed up for a COVID-19 test but was reassured she had correctly signed up for a vaccine after reading that the location of her appointment was Gimbel Pottruck, which is not one of Penn's testing sites.
Penn community members are instructed to arrive at the back entrance of Pottruck at 3730 Samson Street for their appointment, where they will be asked to check in, show Penn identification, and their green PennOpen Pass. They will then be instructed to go upstairs to the Gimbel Gymnasium, which is accessible in accordance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, to receive their vaccine.
After being vaccinated, Penn community members will sit for a 15- or 30-minute observation period, depending on their medical history, to make sure they do not have any immediate vaccine side effects.
Penn is currently administering the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine through at least April 16. Dubé said, however, Penn does not know the quantity, nor the type, of vaccines it will be able to offer next week, as both are completely dependent upon what the city is able to provide.
The University will not administer the Johnson & Johnson vaccine until the Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention conclude their investigation of "rare and severe" type of blood clotting cases among individuals who have received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, Dubé said.
The FDA and CDC announced Tuesday morning that they are recommending that the United States pause the administration of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine "out of an abundance of caution" after six blood clot cases were reported in the U.S. The CDC's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices committee met on Wednesday to review the cases but put off making any new recommendation on the vaccine, citing a current lack of information on the rare type blood clot.
Penn will release appointment slots for the upcoming week by Friday afternoon of each week. Dubé said the University will also continue to update the scheduling platform with new vaccine appointments if the city allots the University more doses. Dubé encouraged students to continue to check the scheduling website throughout the week and, most importantly, to remain patient.
"Not everyone will be able to get the vaccine next week, as much as we all would like that," Dubé said. "There is no perfect system, so we ask that everyone remain as patient as possible."
Medical Director of Student Health Service Vanessa Stoloff added that although the vaccine clinic will be open Monday through Friday beginning April 19, days of operation may change depending on how many vaccine doses the city provides in a given week.
The University will not prioritize any student over another in its rollout plan, but Dubé encouraged students who can afford to wait to receive the vaccine, to let others who may not have the same flexibility to get vaccinated sooner.
"If you are someone that has a lease that doesn't expire until May 31, for example, consider waiting to sign up and allow someone else — an international student, maybe — who might not have the same flexibility and availability to receive the vaccine at home to get it sooner," Dubé said.
Dubé wrote in an emailed statement to The Daily Pennsylvanian on Wednesday evening that access to COVID-19 vaccines on campus is the latest mitigation strategy in the University's effort to keep the Penn community safe.
"Our first day of vaccinations was the result of an amazing collaborative effort and extensive planning by dedicated stakeholders across campus," Dubé wrote.
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