Pitt’s COVID-19 Medical Response Office clarified numerous details about Pitt’s vaccination effort, which could provide shots to up to 800 people, at Thursday afternoon’s Senate Council meeting.
Students in “clinical-facing positions” will be able to schedule a COVID-19 vaccination appointment for next Thursday or Friday at the Petersen Events Center, according to Melissa McGivney, a professor in the School of Pharmacy who is coordinating Pitt’s vaccination efforts, and Dr. John Williams, the head of the CMRO. University officials also discussed Pitt’s coronavirus testing strategy and spring arrival plans.
The Allegheny County Health Department will give vaccinations at the Petersen Events Center next week only to students who meet Pennsylvania’s Group 1A health care personnel designation. Pitt is still awaiting approval from the state to be an independent vaccine provider, which McGivney said leaves Pitt at the discretion of the ACHD and the State Department of Health.
“To be clear this vaccine is coming from the Department of Health, so we are following the request of the Department of Health guidance,” McGivney said.
McGivney said eligible students will receive an email from the CMRO or other campus units to schedule an appointment. In the email, there will be a link to PrepMod — an online clinic management appointment scheduling system. She said this link will only work for the person who is allowed to book an appointment.
“It is a singular link that cannot be passed,” McGivney said. “So even if a student tries to give it to someone else, while it may look like they can sign up, they’re not going to be able to sign up.”
McGivney said that, after picking a time, students should arrive at the Pete prepared to show identification. She said there will then be clinical screenings before the vaccination. Then, after the vaccination, she said there will be a medical team to answer students’ questions.
McGivney added that once Pitt is an independent vaccine provider, the CMRO will be able to provide its own guidelines about what students, faculty and staff are next in line to receive a vaccine based on CDC and ACHD guidance.
“Once we get the vaccine availability from the state directly to Pitt, the CMRO office will be the ones providing the guidelines, and we will be very clear as to when and who can receive the vaccine and in what order,” McGivney said. “Our goal is to take care of absolutely as many people as we can based on how much vaccine we’re able to get allocated from the state.”
Williams said there are numerous complexities in the state health system that make it difficult to predict when exactly students, faculty and staff will be eligible for a vaccine. He said this includes questions over how to distribute vaccines to non-health care professionals with the state’s new expanded top group. Pennsylvania expanded its 1A vaccination group on Tuesday to anyone who is 65 and older or between the ages of 18 to 64 with pre-existing medical conditions.
“It sounds like a mess, it kind of is a bit of a mess,” Williams said. “Things could have been better at lots of levels, maybe the federal level most notably.”
Chancellor Patrick Gallagher said he hopes all members of the Pitt community will soon have access to a vaccine, and the chief concern will be getting every last person vaccinated.
“This starts with everyone wanting it and no one having access to it,” Gallagher said. “Later on, and hopefully not that much later on, we’re going to have the opposite problem which is vaccine availability will be there and we’re desperate to get everyone that shot in their arm.”
Williams also discussed the University’s heightened coronavirus testing infrastructure. He said the Student Health Center now has the capacity to test 300 symptomatic students per day, and there will be random surveillance testing like last semester inside Posvar Hall as well as contact tracing.
“Any positive student, whether a symptomatic student or surveillance student, contact tracing happens right away,” Williams said. “If we get a cluster of cases in a certain social group like a Greek organization or a certain residence then we test everyone in the building.”
Students are also required to receive a negative test to enter University housing this semester, and off-campus students are recommended to get one. Williams added that the University’s phased arrival of four groups over eight days will give Pitt time to test students. He said if there’s a lot of infected students in the first or second group, the University will pause the third and fourth groups.
Williams was also hopeful that students will still be able to carry out appropriate mitigation procedures this semester amid Allegheny County’s high COVID-19 numbers. According to hospital data compiled by The New York Times, around 88% of ICU beds in the Pittsburgh area are currently occupied, compared with 81% statewide and 79% nationally. UPMC Shadyside is at 102% capacity and has no ICU beds remaining.
“I know you’re all hearing a lot about pandemic fatigue and that numbers are high. Locally, it’s four times what it was several months ago, but it’s half what it was two weeks ago. I like the half what it was two weeks ago,” Williams said. “So far, we’re not seeing evidence that [students] are so burnt out on mitigation that they’re not going to do it.”
Gallagher said while he is optimistic that this semester will be more predictable than the fall, he recognizes the volatility of the pandemic.
“We’ve seen this before in terms of what it’s like to try to be at a University, work at a University and study at a University in the middle of a pandemic,” Gallagher said. “That said obviously one of the characteristics of this pandemic is just how volatile it’s been in terms of the circumstances — things are changing all the time.”