Vaccines will not be mandated unless specified by state legislature
Although UTD has not received COVID-19 vaccine doses from the state of Texas, the university and UT Southwestern Medical Clinic have been able to work together to vaccinate UTD employees that fall under Phase 1A and Phase 1B vaccine priority.
According to the Texas Department of State Health, individuals prioritized by Phase 1A include healthcare and front-line workers, while those prioritized by Phase 1B include people aged 65 and older or 16 and older with chronic medical conditions.
Along with those populations, Vice President and Chief of Staff Rafael Martín said that UT Southwestern has offered to extend their COVID-19 vaccination services to employees in the Student Health Center and police department. Clinicians and clinical students are currently being contacted for vaccinations, and campus SHC and police department workers can expect to be contacted soon.
“That’s all that UT Southwestern is doing right now,” Martín said. “They are only vaccinating those priority populations. The lack of supply and the need to prioritize our healthcare workers and first responders, and then those who are most vulnerable and at highest risk, is really driving the whole distribution system right now.”
In a survey conducted by The Mercury, out of 260 respondents, 91.5% of students said they think UTD should offer COVID-19 vaccinations on campus. 86.9% of students said they would sign up to get vaccinated on campus if a vaccine was offered. Human resources management senior Haley Deininger said she wants to get vaccinated on campus to protect her immunocompromised family and community members.
“I don’t want to be the reason that someone catches COVID-19 and has to end up on a ventilator,” Deininger said. “I really do believe there is a lot of power in vaccinating a younger population because we’re crowded together and we also see a lot of case spikes and a lot of kind of irresponsible behavior at times from kids who are in college.”
When it comes to widespread vaccination on campus this semester, Martín said that it is unlikely that UTD will receive enough COVID-19 vaccine doses directly from the state because UTD does not have an affiliated medical school or hospital to provide them on a large scale. However, students, faculty and staff currently in Phase 1A or 1B may register to receive a vaccination elsewhere, through large vaccine hubs – which don’t require county residence in the county where the hub is located – or local vaccine providers.
“In terms of the larger university population, we’re kind of in the same boat as everybody else,” Martín said. “We’re kind of waiting for supply to catch up with demand at which point, maybe it’ll make sense for us as an institution to be offering vaccines to students and to employees. It may make more sense just to send everybody to the local CVS to get their vaccine. So, we’re just kind of waiting to see what will happen in terms of the distribution system.”
To help UTD gauge who is still at risk of infection, Martín said in an email announcement that a voluntary vaccine reporting form has been made available for UTD members who have already received a COVID-19 vaccination.
Of the UT system institutions, UT Austin and UT El Paso are the only other schools that have made forms for requesting COVID-19 vaccination available to their campus community. UT Austin Media Manager Veronica Trevino said that since the state transitioned into Phase 1B vaccinations on December 21, UT Austin – under their campus safety initiative, Protect Texas Together – has made a form available for faculty, staff and students who fit the 1B criteria.
“The form allows the university to request sufficient supply from the state, but scheduling will be based upon vaccine availability,” Trevino said. “All current UT Austin students, faculty and staff will be able to receive a vaccine once there is sufficient supply to meet the demand.”
Once COVID-19 vaccines become more widely available, Martín said that getting vaccinated will not be a university mandate unless specified by the Texas State Legislature. However, he said that UTD’s view on COVID-19 vaccination will be one of encouragement.
“There will be no doubt on what our stance on vaccines will be in the coming months,” Martín said. “We are going to do everything in our power to encourage as many people as possible to take the vaccine. We hope [for] a more normal way of operating in the fall of this year, but that’s only going to happen if a large proportion of our community has been vaccinated. That’s the way we’re going to finally beat this thing.”