On March 17, Gov. Charlie Baker announced a comprehensive timeline for the COVID-19 vaccine rollout in Massachusetts, stating that all residents over the age of 16 will be eligible to receive the vaccine beginning on April 19. The College has not yet determined whether it will be able to serve as a vaccination site, but it is in discussion with local health services providers, President Maud S. Mandel told the Record.
All adult residents will be eligible to receive the COVID vaccine in Massachusetts about two weeks before May 1, the date by which President Joe Biden said all states and territories should make all adults eligible. Biden’s announcement also stated that 90 percent of adults nationwide will be eligible for vaccination and have a vaccination site within five miles of their home by April 19.
All Massachusetts residents over the age of 60, as well as restaurant, sanitation, and transit workers, became eligible for vaccinations on March 22 as part of Phase 2 of the state’s vaccination plan. Residents over the age of 55 and those with one medical condition that would cause them to be at increased risk will become eligible on April 5. All residents over the age of 16 will become eligible on April 19, when the state launches Phase 3. In-state, out-of-state, and international students on campus will be eligible for this phase.
According to the College’s COVID-19 website, the College is currently coordinating with Berkshire Health Systems and the Berkshire Medical Center (BMC) to explore the possibility of becoming a vaccination site. However, there is still no determination on whether the College can become a site in the near future, Mandel said, as many factors in this decision depend on BMC and other community partners.
“If BMC is not going to use Williams as a vaccination site, Williams will certainly facilitate some kind of transportation system to local vaccination sites in [North] Adams and Pittsfield when those sites are ready to offer vaccinations to the college-age group so that students are able to get the vaccine,” Mandel said. “Details cannot be finalized until our local partners are ready to make plans in that regard.”
The College is currently allowing eligible students to be vaccinated at nearby sites. “For now, students who are able to get vaccination appointments are able to receive travel exemptions for this purpose if they travel in a personal vehicle (either alone, with a parent, or a with a podmate), and make the trip to the vaccination site and back in a single day (no overnight stays),” Dean of the College Marlene Sandstrom said.
Even with these rules set in place, some students have found it difficult to obtain transportation. Lucia Sher ’23, a New York state resident with a pre-existing condition, knew she was eligible to be vaccinated in New York but assumed she wouldn’t be able to travel to an off-campus vaccination site given the College’s public health guideline prohibiting students from leaving campus.
Once she learned through a friend that she was in fact allowed to leave campus to be vaccinated, the process “was frustrating because it was very fast,” Sher said. Sher originally hoped to drive to a vaccination site with another student from New York with the same pre-existing condition, but they could not travel in the same car because they are in different pods, she said. (The College’s COVID guidelines prohibit non-podmates from traveling in the same car.)
“When I saw my appointment, I jumped on it very quickly, so I didn’t have a lot of time to get [the College] to approve it,” Sher said. “There was a lot of back and forth of like, ‘No, you can’t go with your friend, but you can go with someone in your pod,’ so that was sort of tricky.”
Sher said she was lucky that a member of her pod was able to drive her to a vaccination site in Hoosick Falls, N.Y., a 20-minute journey from the College, on March 23.
“I’m a New York City kid — I can’t drive,” Sher added. “If it wasn’t for [my podmate] being able to drive me there, I wouldn’t have been able to get the vaccine, and I think that that is frustrating.”
Chief Communications Officer Jim Reische wrote in an email to the College community on March 26 that the College is aware of students’ needs for transportation to vaccination appointments outside of Berkshire County. “To answer a question that’s coming up already, the college unfortunately can’t provide individual transportation for people who may have found a vaccination appointment in Springfield, Boston, etc.,” he said.
Though the College can’t currently provide transportation for students, this is subject to change once eligibility opens up to the general public. “Once vaccinations are broadly availability to everyone under 55 (including college-ages students), we will hope to either provide vaccines on site, or (if that is not possible given supply), provide transportation for students to get to local vaccination sites when they are able to get an appointment,” said Sandstrom.
According to Sandstrom, vaccinated students must continue to follow all of the College’s current public health guidelines. However, students who have received all required doses of the vaccine and have waited for an appropriate period of time for immunity will be exempt from going into quarantine if they are determined to be close contacts with an individual who tests positive.
“Best guidelines for all public health advisors (and I have spoken with several) suggest that very little will change immediately after vaccination,” Mandel wrote. “Since every individual (not receiving the [Johnson and Johnson] vaccine) will need two vaccinations, spaced three or four weeks apart, followed by a minimum of a two-week immunization period, the soonest even the first wave of students could be fully immunized would be late May.”
Other factors that would affect the College’s public health guidelines include the state’s changing restrictions and local COVID-19 rates. “If state restrictions are lifted, the majority of the campus is immunized, and local rates are low, we will begin easing some campus restrictions,” Mandel said. “We evaluate these issues regularly and will continue to do so and adapt as conditions allow.”
According to The New York Times, 34 percent of Massachusetts residents have received one dose of the vaccine as of March 30. 19 percent of residents have received both doses.