Colleges will likely play a big role in distributing coronavirus vaccinations to their students and employees as well as the public, health experts predict.
Institutions have helped research a vaccine and campuses have functioned as trial sites. Leaders of a couple of historically Black colleges also urged their students to participate in the trials, though this prompted some criticism.
Although colleges and universities may serve as vaccination centers, students probably won't be the first ones to receive the shots.
The U.S. is inching closer to approving vaccines. Two developers, Moderna and Pfizer, are applying for emergency authorization for their versions from the Food and Drug Administration. Oxford University and pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca are also developing a vaccine.
The Trump administration has said the U.S. could start giving out vaccines as early as mid-December, though Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said it's likely one won't be widely available until April 2021.
Ahead of a vaccine's rollout, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention developed an interim guide that contains multiple references to how colleges could help get it to the public.
The CDC urges jurisdictions to consider college campuses as administration sites, including setting up mobile clinics in "non-traditional" locations such as campus parking lots and dining and residence halls. The agency also suggested reaching out to college presidents, who can be key in reaching what it describes as "critical" populations. The CDC said that could encompass those attending or working at colleges.
Institutions largely haven't announced plans to help distribute the vaccine, though two campuses in Texas are preparing to do so, according to a local media report. The vaccination plan New York state submitted to the CDC also mentions using campuses as administration sites.
The American College Health Association is urging its members to remain in close contact with local and state health departments regarding distribution plans, said Anita Barkin, co-chair of ACHA's COVID-19 Task Force.
Barkin said she could envision large campus facilities, such as football stadiums and gymnasiums, being transformed into distribution sites, and college health service workers being recruited to help administer vaccines.
"Everything is very preliminary right now," Barkin said.
Nevertheless, campuses might not be the most convenient vaccination spots depending on where they are located, said Catherine Troisi, an infectious disease epidemiologist at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston School of Public Health.
Some large research institutions might have equipment necessary to house the vaccines, Troisi said. Pfzier's needs to be preserved in freezers with temperatures colder than an Antarctic winter, NPR reported. But not every college is driveable or otherwise accessible, Troisi said.
"You don't usually walk through a college unless you're a student there," Troisi said, noting that K-12 schools and community colleges might be more viable administration sites.
Institutional leaders will have a significant part to play when it comes to immunizing their campuses, said Peter Hotez, dean of Baylor College of Medicine's National School of Tropical Medicine. Though traditional-age college students may not be the first to receive the vaccine, they have contributed heavily to spreading the virus, as research found that many of the areas to experience spikes were college towns.
Hotez expects many institutions will eventually require students to get a coronavirus vaccine. Colleges will also still need to enforce other mitigation efforts, mask-wearing and good hygiene practices while the population becomes inoculated, Hotez said.
"Colleges may be one the few groups to have mandatory vaccinations," Hotez said.