On Feb. 9, Wellesley College President Paula Johnson sent out an email to staff and faculty with updates on the College’s plan for vaccination rollout. In the email, President Johnson wrote that the inconsistencies within the Commonwealth of Massachusetts vaccine rollout have hindered the College’s own planning. A much shorter email was sent to students on campus for the spring semester the following day, Feb. 10, from Medical Director of Health Services Jennifer Schwartz. In it, Dr. Schwartz provided instructions for students who had already received their first dose of the vaccine and urged students to register with Newton-Wellesley Hospital to receive updates and information about the vaccination.
Although large universities with medical schools and some small universities have received allotments of the vaccine, the selection process seems to have been “somewhat random.” This news comes just as the number of cases in the town of Wellesley continue to increase, according to the town’s public health nurse supervisor.
According to President Johnson, she and a small group of other college and university presidents will be presenting a plan to mitigate these issues to the Massachusetts Department of Health and Human Services later this week. She also expressed her frustration that some institutions in higher education were “prioritizing individual and/or institutional benefit, as opposed to the common good of the country.”
Among other key updates, the email contained information about who at the College has already been vaccinated. Included in this list were medical staff and campus police, who were vaccinated through the Newton-Wellesley Hospital and town of Wellesley. Although it was not the College’s decision to vaccinate members of campus police, many students still expressed shock on Twitter about officers getting vaccinated before custodial staff and at risk students.
“I think knowing what the actual role of campus police is on this campus, I was like, why are they being designated as first responders?” Rachel Hodes ’21 said, noting that the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, not Wellesley College, is responsible. “The reason it shocked me was because on this campus, the amount of risk that [campus police face] is very small. They really don’t interact with students that much, so it really doesn’t make sense to me why they were placed in this priority.”
Both Hodes and Dani Pergola ’21 were frustrated by the fact that police officers were vaccinated before other staff members, such as dining hall staff, who interact with students daily. For Pergola, coming from New Jersey, where police are not in a prioritized group for vaccination, the information in the email came as a surprise.
“I’ve noticed they aren’t following COVID-19 protocols to the extent that other people on campus are,” Pergola said. “For them to be the ones prioritized to be vaccinated when I’ve noticed they haven’t really taken these protocols seriously is kind of alarming to me.”
Both students were also concerned that President Johnson’s email was only sent to faculty and staff, not students. Hodes was forwarded the email from a Wellesley College staff member, and Pergola gained access through another student. However, the majority of students had no access to the information in the email, and not all the information in President Johnson’s email was present in the students-only email sent by Dr. Schwartz.
“The content of the whole email seems like it would be important to students,” Pergola said. “The point of the whole email was to lay out the vaccination process and what their plan was to vaccinate students and staff going forward. It seems kind of weird to me that they would only send that to staff.”
One promising update in the email sent by President Johnson was that the College had been approved as a vaccination site, which would make it easier to plan vaccination rollout. The president also encouraged Wellesley faculty and staff to become vaccinated through their primary care providers, if the opportunity arose. Currently, only K-12 faculty and staff are eligible to receive the vaccine in the state’s Phase 2 rollout, making all those working at Wellesley ineligible. According to President Johnson, the Massachusetts Higher Education Working Group, which she is a part of, advocated for this rule to be changed, but their request was denied by the state.
However, the lack of a clear vaccination timeline still leaves many students worried about getting the vaccine by the end of the school year.
“To me, the plan seems disappointing,” Pergola said. “It seems like they don’t really have much of a plan, and even if they did, it wouldn’t be until the semester is over.”