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Michigan colleges rush to get COVID vaccine in student arms amid surge

Saginaw Valley State University student Matt Montroy gets a COVID-19 vaccine shot on campus
Saginaw Valley State University student Matt Montroy gets a COVID-19 vaccine shot on campus Wednesday, while a line of students await their turn. (Courtesy photo by Madison Thomas)

April 26: Michigan GOP pushes to ban vaccine passports, university mandates

Michigan’s colleges and universities are rushing to get shots in student arms, with COVID vaccine clinics springing up on campuses amid a startling surge in coronavirus cases across the state.

Those efforts will get a big boost in coming days, when the state allocates thousands of doses of the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine to public and private colleges and universities across the state, specifically for students before they leave campuses for their hometowns.

School officials have been informed of the number of J&J doses they’ll receive in the first allocation; more allocations are anticipated in coming weeks.

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Michigan Department of Health and Human Services spokesperson Lynn Sutfin confirmed Wednesday to Bridge Michigan that the state has earmarked J&J doses for college students, but did not share more details.

It’s part of an all-out push to immunize tens of thousands of younger adult residents currently at high risk of getting infected, and spreading, the potentially deadly virus.

“We’re in a race between the vaccines and the virus,” Oakland University President Ora Hirsch-Pescovitz said in an interview. “And we’re hoping we win.”

Vaccination eligibility in the state dropped to age 16 Monday. By Wednesday, vaccinations were being administered on numerous campuses, including at  Oakland University in Rochester and Saginaw Valley State University, in Saginaw County.

On Wednesday, students at all three University of Michigan campuses could start signing up for appointments next week for the Johnson & Johnson one-dose vaccination. U-M will receive 7,500 doses for students in Ann Arbor, Flint and Dearborn in its initial allotment, with about 4,000 available April 17-20 at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor.

Michigan State University will begin student vaccinations Friday, with the J&J vaccine. In a letter Wednesday informing students and staff of the vaccinations, MSU said “recent data show that COVID-19 is being spread in Michigan and across the nation to a great extent by young people. By providing our students this single-dose vaccine, we can better protect them and all of those in the greater East Lansing community, the mid-Michigan region and the state.”

Northern Michigan University begins giving shots on campus next week, and Michigan Tech, Central Michigan University,Western Michigan University and Grand Valley State University are finalizing plans for their own student vaccination sites as they await vaccine shipments.

Vaccinations are also taking place or being prepped for campuses of many Michigan private colleges, including Cornerstone University in Grand Rapids, the College for Creative Studies in Detroit, and Albion College, according to Colby Cesaro, vice president of Michigan Independent Colleges and Universities.

Finlandia University, enrollment 400, in Hancock in the Upper Peninsula, is holding “Crush COVID Week” activities, culminating in 100 available shots of the J&J vaccine.

“There’s a massive push to get students vaccinated,” Cesaro said.

Those vaccinations are particularly critical in Michigan, which leads the nation in rates of new infections, hospitalizations and COVID test positivity.

On Wednesday, there were 8,015 new confirmed cases, and a test positivity rate of nearly 18 percent. That’s far above the 3 percent or lower goal set by the state to ensure that community spread is under control. 

More than 1.8 million Michigan residents, including many of the state’s older residents who are most vulnerable to the virus, have been fully vaccinated. Yet infections and hospitalizations continue to spike, driven largely by younger residents.

Over the past week, the highest number of new confirmed cases were among Michigan residents between the ages of 20-29 and 10-19.

While adolescents and young adults are less likely to become seriously ill with the virus, they can spread it to other, more vulnerable people. Vaccinating college students could help put the brakes on such transmission as the college year nears its end.

Officials at Oakland University hope to vaccinate all students, staff and faculty before the end of the spring semester, which ends April 27. The university currently has 5,200 doses of the three COVID-19 vaccines, including 2,500 doses of the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine arriving from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services specifically for students.

Those one-dose vaccinations will be administered next week.

“Our students will be leaving campus at the end of the semester, and so we want to get their single dose so they don’t’ have to come back for a second injection,” said Hirsch-Pescovitz, the university president.

Oakland had 500 students line up Wednesday morning, in the first hours that student vaccinations were available.

The response has been amazing,” said Hirsch-Pescovitz, who is a medical doctor. “We are fortunate that Oakland is receiving these vaccines at a time when Michigan is experiencing a dramatic increase in both the number of COVID-19 cases and COVID-19 variants.”

Wayne State University in Detroit began offering Pfizer vaccines to students this week, which requires a second shot several weeks later. The school will get 1,000 doses of the J&J vaccine next week from the state, with more expected later, said Laurie Lauzon Clabo, dean of the College of Nursing.

“We are the red-hot spot for the spread of COVID-19 in the nation,” Lauzon Clabo said. Students “are the population that is more mobile and more social. It’s essential that we get (them) vaccinated.”

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