With both the Pfizer and Moderna coronavirus vaccines being approved by the Food and Drug Administration in December and supply being limited, states are slowly working through their vaccine distribution plans. Because of the limited supply, it is still unknown when either vaccine could be made available to the public.
Last week, Gov. JB Pritzker announced that Illinois was moving into Phase 1B of its vaccine distribution plan, and essential frontline workers and residents age 65 and older would be included in this phase. This would allow a large group of citizens to be eligible for the vaccine.
Frontline essential workers include United States Postal Service workers, public transit workers, grocery store workers, first responders, persons working in education, food and agriculture, manufacturing, corrections workers and staff at shelters and day cares.
In the most recent weekly COVID-19 email sent out to the campus community, Illinois State University addressed this recent announcement:
“While Illinois State remains in constant contact with the McLean County Health Department and the governor’s office, it has not received information regarding a timeline for when vaccines will become available to the university for distribution to the campus community,” ISU officials said.
“At this time, the university anticipates a limited vaccine supply to be available no earlier than the middle of the spring semester. Once a vaccine supply is received by the university, it will be distributed with guidance from local health officials and in accordance with the Illinois Department of Public Health’s (IDPH) vaccination distribution plan.”
Despite Phase 1B not including institutions of higher education, Illinois State University’s administration has started discussing possible plans to have vaccines on campus in the future.
“Our steering committees are talking about that a lot [and] I’ve been in some of those conversations. Where we take our lead is the health experts, [such as] the McLean County Health Department, the Illinois Department of Public Health and the governor's office,” ISU President Larry Dietz said.
“[In Pritzker’s announcement], they made a distinction between K-12 faculty and higher education faculty, staff and students. K-12 are the highest priority and we will fit in after that at some point, but there’s still not enough specificity in the directions that we’re getting from the state level and county level for us to certainly give any timelines as to when this might happen.”
Dietz also said that the administration is currently discussing all possibilities of what is to come with the vaccine in loose terms and that many of the major decisions of what the fall 2021 semester will look like will be made in late spring or over the summer.
One possibility that Dietz mentioned is to vaccinate ISU students, faculty and staff during the fall semester if the distribution plan continues and is made available to the public by then, allowing the campus to have a mass immunization as well as an immunization site similar to the on-campus testing sites.
“I think this fall is going to be a very different time for us. I would fully expect that you will see stronger language about the vaccine for those that are living in the residence halls, working on the campus, taking their courses [in-person],” Dietz said.
If things continue as planned and ISU is able to have that mass immunization, both Vice President and Provost for Academic affairs Aondover Tarhule and Dietz said that they hope to have more in-person and hybrid classes in place next fall.
However, they still continue to tell faculty, staff and students to plan for all scenarios regardless of what those plans end up being and how things play out until then.
“In my messages, I’m suggesting to faculty to plan for an in-person class for the fall but to be prepared if the infections have not improved as much as we expect and have to move online,” Tarhule said.
Tarhule went on to say that this message and the extra preparation time is for a couple different reasons.
“We do that for two reasons. Number one is that it is much easier to plan for an in-person class and then move it on. [Trying to do it] the other way around and try to plan for an online class and move it in person is so much harder. We would prefer that faculty begin by planning for in-person classes,” Tarhule said.
“The second one is an unfortunate one, but I think it's a fact. We now have some experience [and] we now have one year worth of experience of [virtual learning]. On top of that, most people probably have two versions of their classes [with] one online and one in person. My hope is that it will be easier to switch from one [version] to another depending on what the pandemic allows us to do.”
Despite what ISU’s end decisions are for the fall semester, Dietz said that the goal is to ensure the safety and health of the entire campus community.
“The umbrella over [everything] is that whatever we do, we want to make sure that we’re doing what we can to ensure the health and safety of everyone. That underscores everything that we’re looking at,” Dietz said.