WU now offering J&J vaccine on WUSM campus; vaccinated students not required to quarantine if exposed to COVID-19

and | Senior News Editors

People fill out paperwork while standing in line at the Medical Campus as they wait for vaccination appointments Friday. (Photo by HN Hoffmann | Student Life)

Update: As of April 13, Washington University has paused distribution of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Read our story on the pause.

Washington University is now offering the Johnson & Johnson vaccine to all students, faculty and staff. Once students are vaccinated, they will not be required to quarantine if exposed to COVID-19.

The Danforth Campus Digest notified University community members via email, Apr. 7, that they will receive an invitation in the coming days to make an appointment to receive the one-dose vaccine on the Washington University Medical Campus. The University is also offering the vaccine to 18 or older family members of faculty or staff.

“We strongly encourage everyone to be vaccinated against COVID-19,” Kirk Dougher, Associate Vice Chancellor for Health and Wellness, wrote in a follow-up email to the University, Apr. 8. “This is true even if you have already had COVID-19.”

Students who are vaccinated with the Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna or Johnson & Johnson vaccine—the three COVID-19 vaccines authorized for use in the United States—either by the University or an off-campus source, will not be sent to quarantine housing when exposed to COVID-19. Students are encouraged to upload an image of their COVID-19 Vaccination Record Card to the student health portal so the University can determine who needs to quarantine.

People waited in long lines at the Medical School in the Central West End Friday as vaccination got underway, but as of 2:30 p.m., workers from inside the vaccination room had begun handing out paperwork and pens to those standing further up in line, speeding the process. 

One student in line, freshman Nicholas Cloney, said the wait was worth it for the one-shot vaccine. “Doing this twice, maybe I would think twice about it, but just the peace of mind of being vaccinated will be very important and it will make me more comfortable doing things out in public,” he said. “I’m willing to stand for a half hour or 45 minutes.” 

Freshman Ellis Wu was critical of the University’s preparation for such a large influx of students. Wu, who had ridden his bike from the Danforth Campus to the vaccination site, had expected to be in and out of the vaccination site, since each person had a scheduled appointment, but he ended up waiting in line for 45 minutes.

“They didn’t really plan things well,” Wu said. “They had us line up against the wall and then they were like ‘you can’t stop, you have to keep on moving.’ So I had the bike on me, I had the pen and paper in my hand and I was moving and writing and carrying the bike at the same time. So that was kind of cruddy.” Still, like Cloney, Wu said it was worth it to get vaccinated.

Because of the logistical challenge of vaccinating such a large number of people, the University encouraged community members in an email Friday afternoon to volunteer with staffing the vaccination clinic, citing a “critical need for next Monday and Tuesday.”

News of vaccine availability on campus comes at a time when the number of COVID-19 cases remains high among the undergraduate population, with the positivity rate for surveillance tests passing 1% for the first time this week. With five weeks to go in the semester, 249 undergraduate students have already been infected in the spring, a figure equal to 116.35% of the total fall cases. 

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which only requires one dose, will be the only vaccine administered through the University at this time. In an interview with Student Life, Dougher said the fact that the Johnson & Johnson vaccine only requires a single dose makes it a good fit for a population of college students nearing the end of their semester.

“The single dose is a really big deal, especially this late in the semester, because if you get two doses, you’ve got to get them at the same location,” Dougher said. “And part of the concern was if students went home, they might not have access to that second dose. So the one dose solution certainly was a factor [in deciding which vaccine to offer].”

With the maximum protection against COVID-19 infection coming two weeks after getting the shot, students who get vaccinated in the coming week will be fully protected by finals and the end of spring semester. 

The University is urging students to sign up as soon as possible for the shot since they do not know how long the supply will last. “The state distributes doses to suppliers each week and while we received a large number of doses this week, there is no certainty that we will receive additional doses or how many we will receive in upcoming weeks,” Dougher explained in the email.

Although the removal of the quarantine requirement for vaccinated students, which is in accordance with CDC guidelines, is the only only official change in the University’s COVID-19 containment policy as a result of the vaccination program, Dougher suggested that as more students get vaccinated, further incremental changes could be a possibility.

“As our student population that is vaccinated continues to increase, you can anticipate some changes in what our public health policies look like, what the COVID-19 monitoring team requires of us and some of the privileges that we might be able to have,” Dougher said. “So some of that will still be somewhat limited and regulated by the county health department that makes decisions for us. But in other ways, the things that we do have control over again, we’ll see some alterations as that escalates.”

Although numerous clinical trials have demonstrated the Johnson & Johnson vaccine’s effectiveness, particularly against serious health outcomes or death due to COVID-19, some students have expressed concern about receiving the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. 

Freshman Sophia Coco said that some students that she has spoken with view the Johnson & Johnson vaccine as inferior to the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.

“I’ve definitely been a part of a lot of conversations where people have been like, ‘oh, Johnson and Johnson, that’s the worst one, I don’t want that,’” Coco said. “I’m wondering if that is going to significantly impact the number of students who will get it. I think it is.”

Much of this concern stems from the Johnson & Johnson vaccine’s lower efficacy rate than the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. However, efficacy rates are only one out of a number of different factors that determine a vaccine’s effectiveness, and comparisons between vaccines are often much more complex than picking the higher of two numbers.

“I know students are going to have concerns about whether this efficacy rate is better than that one,” Dougher said. “Really the first [vaccine] they can get is the best one.” 

Freshman Audrey Church also said she has noticed hesitancy surrounding the Johnson & Johnson shot. “People think that Pfizer and Moderna are more effective,” she said. “So, if they can get [Pfizer or Moderna] at a local CVS or Walgreens in St. Louis, they’re going to do that, rather than get the one shot.”

Despite the stigma surrounding the vaccine’s efficacy, Coco and Church both said that they think many students will still get the Johnson & Johnson vaccine through the University due to its convenience.

“I think that it is going to make it much more likely that Wash. U. students will actually get vaccinated, because they don’t have to go anywhere to do anything,” Coco said. Many students have traveled beyond the St. Louis region to get vaccinated.

Coco also said it is important that the University is offering a vaccine on campus in the event that all community members are required to be vaccinated by the fall semester. “There’s a chance that Wash. U. might require it in the fall and I think in order for them to require it, they have to give people a chance to get it,” she said.

This story has been updated as of 5 p.m. on Friday, April 9 with information about the vaccination process at the Medical School and comments from Associate Vice Chancellor Kirk Dougher. The headline has also been updated to specify that the vaccine is being distributed on the Medical School campus. We will update the story with a comment from the University regarding the lines at the vaccination site. Senior Multimedia Editor HN Hoffmann and Managing Editor Ted Moskal contributed reporting. 

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