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CBS News 8 - San Diego, CA News Station - KFMB Channel 8 | cbs8.com

Colleges and coronavirus: March 20, 2021 — How do colleges get vaccines?

Breaking down coronavirus headlines from San Diego County's colleges. What are college campuses doing with vaccine doses anyway? CSUSM plans in-person commencement
Credit: KFMb

SAN DIEGO COUNTY, Calif. — The new vaccination tier allowing those with pre-existing conditions to get the vaccine combined with shortages around the nation is forcing temporary closures at vaccination superstations to continue across San Diego County.

Despite the shortage, local universities have managed to collectively earmark several thousand vaccine doses for themselves over the last few months. UC San Diego, San Diego State and University of San Diego all were sent vaccines by San Diego County at the very latest, early February.

USD as early as January 22 and February 2 for SDSU.

Before jail inmates, public transportation workers and people with pre-existing conditions were allowed to get the vaccine, those working in the education sector were qualified back on February 27 and anyone older than 65 became eligible on January 23.

The education sector is outlined by the state to include staff in colleges, universities, junior colleges, community colleges and other post-secondary education facilities. 

With a number of other tiers eligible to get the vaccine, why were highly coveted vaccine shipments sent specifically to local universities?

You have to go back to when shortages weren't taken so seriously.

When vaccine enrollment was planned, The California Department of Public Health opened an application portal called CalVax, now known as myCAvax.

A number of colleges were already trusted by the county to be distributors of vaccines in the pre-COVID era, so they had the infrastructure needed to administer vaccines.

All they needed to do was apply. SDSU emailed News 8 that its application to distribute the COVID-19 vaccine was approved on January 25.

USD wrote over email that it was approved sometime in early January.

CSU San Marcos was approved on February 4, according to an email from the state health department.

UC San Diego was not immediately available to answer when they were approved, but they worked with the City of San Diego, the county and the Padres to set up vaccination superstation and UCSD Health administered doses.

A campuswide email on February 26 was also sent to academics and staff at UCSD announcing eligible members on campus would get vaccinated at the on-campus recreational center known as RIMAC. Around 10,000 vaccination appointments were reserved for this.

Over the last few months, SDSU's student health center at Calpulli was shipped 900 doses. USD was shipped 700. 

All three universities were approved providers back in January. This was before national vaccine shortages from winter weather and high demand made doses so scarce.

This is also why CSU San Marcos didn't get approved for any shipments until Friday, March 19. Their myCAvax application was approved at least a week after the other universities.

According to San Diego County Communications Officer Michael Workman, the state health department instructed the county not to ship any more vaccines to providers whose applications were approved after the shortage became apparent.

This communication was sent sometime between San Diego State's approval on January 25 and CSU San Marcos' on February 4, but the county couldn't provide a specific date of when the message was sent.

"The state said we can't give vax to those who have not already received it," Workman wrote in an email to News 8.

This cut off CSUSM from vaccine supply, despite reported requests every week to receive doses. In the time since they were approved providers, SDSU and USD took in at least 1,100 doses of vaccine.

Workman also wrote that CSUSM's application was "lagged at the state," preventing them from being approved on time to receive doses with the rest of the universities.

State health officials did not respond to numerous emails from News 8 asking what caused the lag if any.

Zameer Karim, a senior at CSUSM and a research global fellow with the TOM chapter on campus, said he was “pleasantly surprised and pleased” with the rollout of mandatory coronavirus testing on campus but feels his college was left out of the vaccination conversation.

“I feel disturbed, to be frank," Karim said.

Karim added that the university has the space to take in more vaccinations and questioned why CSUSM wasn't approved earlier like the other colleges.

"Hopefully it's not due to a lack of due diligence on the part of the administration," Karim said. "But I can't really see what else it could be."

Karim serves as a student-at-large on CSUSM's Associated Students Inc.'s internal operations committee and on the community engagement group.

Communications Specialist Brian Hiro wrote to News 8 on Friday saying that CSUSM was approved for 100 doses of the Moderna vaccine  — the first shipment of vaccine ever sent to CSUSM.

Hiro wrote that they will offer the vaccines to on-campus employees in line with the state's vaccination tiers. 

"If we receive additional vaccines in the future, we will expand to other employees, including those working remotely," Hiro wrote.

CSU San Marcos plans in-person and distanced commencement 

CSUSM is pushing forward with in-person commencement activities, according to a video message by CSUSM President Dr. Ellen Neufeldt.

The school is offering two versions of commencement. One will be an in-person, traditional commencement that's also live-streamed online.

Another option will be "Graduates on Parade," a socially distanced commencement ceremony that will also become an annual tradition for CSUSM grads, according to the announcement.

"Now what that's going to look like, more details will come," Dr. Neufeldt said in her video statement. "As our team works through the guidance to make sure we've got all the safety protocols in."

The announcement states that more details will come on April 1 and that the celebration would include graduates from 2020.

From Monday, March 15 to Friday, March 19, 493 on-campus students were tested for coronavirus at CSUSM. There were zero positives out of nearly 300 students living on-campus.

One positive was reported last week.

This, in addition to 2,059 confirmed tests synthesized since February 15, make a negligibly low positivity rate at the school.

USD plans hybrid-model courses in red tier, still deliberating commencement

For the beginning of the term at USD, students were placed into a stay-on-campus order to prevent the spread of an ongoing spike it had on its campus.

Nearly 200 cases were reported within one week. All congregate meetings and courses were shifted online during this time.

The stay-on-campus order was meant to last until March 1 but was repealed earlier due to an improvement in on-campus cases.

Now with the county's shift into the red tier, USD is planning on advancing to in-person hybrid courses next month, according to a campuswide announcement.

Instruction until April 12 will remain remote as it was, but then a hybrid model of learning will be introduced.

It wasn't directly explained what hybrid learning will look like in the campus announcement.

On the graduation front, University of San Diego wrote to News 8 on Friday over email that commencement plans were still being planned and that there were no updates to make public.

SDSU is currently the only other university besides CSU San Marcos that has plans for an in-person commencement this spring.

UC San Diego also has a webpage dedicated to 2021 commencement but is so far planning a virtual-only celebration.

It advertises guests to check the website in April for more information regarding the ceremony and if the situation surrounding the pandemic allows in-person celebrations.

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