Beginning April 19, all Massachusetts residents over the age of 16 will be eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine as the state launches Phase 3 of its vaccination program. In-state, out-of-state, and international students on campus will all be eligible for vaccination during this phase. In the meantime, some students who are already eligible in Massachusetts or in their nearby home states have been able to get vaccines.
The College will not become a vaccination site, but it will provide transportation to vaccination sites at St. Elizabeth of Hungary Parish Center in North Adams and Berkshire Community College in Pittsfield for students, faculty, and staff without personal transportation. The College will release details about the shuttle schedule this week, and regular shuttles will begin traveling to and from these sites on April 19, when all Massachusetts residents will be eligible, Vice President for Finance and Administration Fred Puddester told the Record.
Both St. Elizabeth of Hungary Parish Center and Berkshire Community College (BCC), which are labeled as “general vaccination sites” (as opposed to mass vaccination sites) by the state’s vaccination location webpage, are located within half an hour of campus by car. Other nearby vaccination sites include the Walgreens in Williamstown and Stop & Shop in North Adams. However, the College’s shuttle system will travel only to and from the two primary locations in North Adams and Pittsfield.
The Parish Center and BCC currently offer only the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines respectively, but other locations have been utilizing the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Yesterday, federal agencies called for an immediate pause in use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine after six U.S. recipients developed a rare blood clotting disorder. Over 6.8 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine have been administered nationwide.
While adverse effects seem to be extremely rare, Massachusetts announced yesterday that it would pause use of the vaccine “out of an abundance of caution” while federal officials examine the reports of blood clots.
Regardless of the vaccination site they choose, students will need to make their own appointments through the state’s system. Since the state’s pre-registration program is only available for mass vaccination sites, which do not currently include locations in North Adams or Pittsfield, students seeking nearby appointments will need to use the state’s vaccine location directory.
“We encourage students to get vaccinated, but won’t require them for the spring term,” Puddester said on Monday. “If you have health concerns about the vaccine, please contact the Health Center or your [healthcare] provider.”
The College has not yet decided whether COVID vaccines will be required for students who return to campus in fall 2021, according to Puddester.
Already eligible students find appointments
Though the College has not yet started its vaccine site transportation program, students currently eligible under Massachusetts’ Phase 2 guidelines can find appointments at both stores and state-run sites if they have access to personal transportation — and many already have.
Sophie Moore ’22 found an appointment by following a Massachusetts-specific Twitter bot that scrapes the internet for open appointments and posts them on its feed.
“I used the Twitter bot @vaccinetime and then I just assumed that whenever <100 appointments opened up it wasn’t worth it,” Moore wrote to the Record. After seeing a large batch of them open up, she was able to get an appointment at the Parish Center in North Adams on April 8.
Aidan Lloyd-Tucker ’22 recommended the bot in a Twitter thread of advice geared specifically towards students at the College, along with macovidvaccines.com, a website that aggregates open appointments from across the state. Lloyd-Tucker was able to get vaccinated in the Berkshire region as well.
Another Berkshire County-specific resource is the Berkshire Vaccine Collaborative, which Puddester linked in his campus-wide email. In addition to a vaccination signup link, the website contains updates and information on vaccine availability in the region.
Some students who are residents of nearby states have sought vaccine appointments outside of Massachusetts. Connecticut, New York, and New Hampshire have already opened up eligibility to all residents 16 and older, prompting some to travel across the border.
Once she became eligible in her home state of New Hampshire, Katrina Wheelan ’21 woke up early to sign up for an appointment through her state’s unified digital platform, vini.nh.gov. After the College approved her request to travel beyond the corridor, Wheelan was able to drive to her appointment.
Connecticut and New York also have state-run websites for obtaining vaccine appointments. The @nyvaccine Twitter bot provides updates every minute on locations with open slots.
Students who make vaccine appointments in locations farther afield can fill out the health travel form to request a travel exemption beyond the College-sanctioned corridor, Dean of the College Marlene Sandstrom told the Record. The College will grant permission for students to travel for vaccine appointments as long as the roundtrip can be completed in one day, with no stops or overnights, and as long as the student either drives alone or only with a family member or podmate.
Signing up and getting there are the hard parts, Moore and Lloyd-Tucker said.
Though she was initially nervous that the vaccine site could be complicated to navigate, Moore said she was glad to be proven wrong. “The actual clinic at the church in North Adams was SO easy and streamlined!” she wrote.
“It’s not stressful at all getting it,” Lloyd-Tucker said. “The shot doesn’t feel like anything.”