When Cassiana Robinson ’22 decided to return to campus this spring, she was met with unexpected health challenges despite the College’s efforts to minimize COVID risk: she suffered a severe asthma attack in March that took her out of class for a week. Because of that condition, though, she was eligible to be vaccinated earlier than the general population. After getting her first off campus, she received her second dose of the Pfizer vaccine on campus at the College Club clinic that Wellesley held from May 7 to May 9, partnered with CVS.
The clinic vaccinated 299 people, and many other students have received the vaccine off campus, as the general public in Massachusetts became eligible on April 19. As College President Paula Johnson announced in an email on May 5, all students will be required to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 before coming to campus in the fall. CVS will host another vaccination clinic on campus by the end of May to facilitate this goal.
Many students who were vaccinated at the first campus clinic described the process as easy. Hannah Michaud ’21, who took advantage of the clinic to get her second dose, was impressed with the process. She said it was significantly better-organized than the Walgreens in Needham, where she got her first shot. While each of the two clinics had “about eight” patients when she arrived, the College Club had more vaccination booths.
“I thought the College Club was super smooth,” Michaud said. “I think that they had the capability to take a lot more students.”
Many students who went to the clinic faced difficulty trying to access a vaccine before the College confirmed that the clinic was happening and when it would take place. Originally, Dean Sheila Horton stated in an email that the clinic would only be open to those who had not yet gotten their first dose of the vaccine, which left many ineligible, as a large number of students received their first dose before the dates of the clinic. Later, it was clarified that the clinic would also be open to people who had gotten their first dose of Pfizer at least 17 days prior to the clinic.
“Reading [the first email] more closely, it said so strictly that it was only first dose,” Robinson said. “Sometimes when I see things that are very obviously red-tape-like and don’t make sense for the people they’re trying to serve, I just kinda go, ‘Yeah, no.’”
Robinson scheduled a meeting with Dr. Jennifer Schwartz, the medical director of Health Services, to ask questions about her asthma and the clinic’s first-dose policy. Schwartz then emailed the CVS clinicians to ask if they would be willing to accommodate second doses, and they said yes.
Robinson and other students expressed frustration with the College’s policies about off-campus vaccinations, noting the strict transportation and quarantine policies, and lack of concrete communication about the clinic.
“For someone who doesn’t know how to drive, doesn’t have a car, if I hadn’t found someone to drive me, I would’ve had to Uber or take public transportation, which is very risky, and then I’d have to miss class because I’d have to self-isolate in my room,” Teresa Xiao ’23 said. “I know Wellesley is trying their best to protect us, but sometimes their rules are kind of … unreasonable.”
Xiao became infected with COVID over winter break while staying on campus, as did two of her blockmates. They are all international students. Due to confusion about the school’s policies, Xiao was unsure whether she would have to quarantine after being vaccinated off-campus, and some of her blockmates have been worried about whether or not they will be able to return to their home countries over the summer due to vaccination logistics.
“I have another blockmate who is from France, and she really wants to go home for summer break,” Xiao said. “She has to be fully vaccinated to go home, and there’s not really much time.”
Xiao added that fellow students were more helpful to her in navigating the vaccine process than the administration, and was able to get vaccinated quickly after she became eligible. A student told her to preregister before the College sent out an email mentioning preregistration, and Xiao found a ride to her appointment through a student-made spreadsheet.
According to Schwartz, the College would have liked to bring vaccines to campus earlier, but it was not feasible.
“We had many leads that ultimately were not able to come to fruition until the supply opened up just recently,” Schwartz said. “Fortunately, now that all are eligible in the state and companies like CVS are able to organize and provide clinics — as well as walk-in appointments in general — there is much greater access to those who want to be vaccinated.”
Assuming that every student can get vaccinated by the end of the summer, including international students, who may have to be vaccinated on arrival even if they were able to get a non-US- or FDA-approved vaccine in their home country, the College plans to return to its normal format. Although masks, testing and some physical distancing may still be required, the College intends to return to all in-person classes, on a semester system, with all students living on campus, including in double and triple dorm rooms.
“Having as many members of our community vaccinated as possible is an integral part of maintaining the health and safety of our community as this pandemic continues,” Horton said in an email. “We also want everyone who has been vaccinated to make sure they report it to us through the Spring 2021 Toolbox on MyWellesley … This is really important because it is the only way that we will be able to gauge the percentage of our community that is vaccinated.”
Horton stated on May 4 that the second clinic will be open from May 28 to May 30.