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More Duke staff to be eligible for vaccine in March, but students will have to wait

A recent policy change in North Carolina vaccine distribution has shifted college and university students to the back of the line, making the timeline for student vaccination unclear. 

North Carolina public health officials announced last month that college students are now in Group 5 for vaccine distribution, meaning they are no longer prioritized over the general public. Meanwhile, Duke workers in Group 3 will be able to be vaccinated started March 10, according to Duke’s COVID-19 working group.

“We are currently working to plan for the vaccination of Group 3.  As the prioritization for vaccination is currently defined, we understand that the vast majority of the students will fall into Group 5,” wrote Gail Shulby, co-chair of Duke University Health System Universal Flu Vaccination & COVID-19 Vaccination Planning Work Groups, in an email.

Although the state has made the transition into Group 2—vaccinating adults 65 or older and frontline essential workers—it is unclear how quickly vaccine rollout will proceed. So far, much of the country has struggled with a slower-than-anticipated vaccination rate. 

Duke still has 42,000 people in Group 2 on a waiting list to receive the vaccine, said Michael Schoenfeld, vice president for public affairs and government relations, on Tuesday.

"The demand far outstrips the supply," Schoenfeld said. He noted that the state, not Duke, sets the timeline and determines who is prioritized for vaccination. 

With a great deal of uncertainty regarding vaccine supply and distribution speed, the leaders of the vaccination working group wrote in a Jan. 7 email to faculty, staff and students that students will “likely be eligible to receive vaccinations later in the spring or early summer.”

In the most recent update, the work-group leaders noted that many Duke staff will be eligible for vaccination before the summer. 

“College instructors, food workers, custodians, clergy, law enforcement and security officers, and transit workers” will be vaccinated in Group 3 beginning March 10, according to a Feb. 10 email to faculty and staff from the work-group-leaders: Shulby; Kyle Cavanaugh, vice president for administration; Carol Epling, director of Employee Occupational Health and Wellness; and Cameron Wolfe, associate professor of medicine.

Duke began vaccinating staff in December, starting with frontline health-care workers.

As it will likely be several months before students are able to be vaccinated, the work-group leaders wrote in their most recent email that Duke community members should continue to take the same precautions that kept COVID-19 transmission rates low in the fall: wearing a mask, regularly washing hands, maintaining a a six-feet distance and avoiding large gatherings. 

Matthew Griffin contributed reporting.

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