Although the COVID-19 vaccine is not yet widely available, WPI worked with the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (MassDPH) to obtain 200 doses of vaccine to protect its health staff who provide COVID-facing care, and campus first responders—as well as the same types of workers at colleges and universities in the Worcester area.
At the same time, WPI staff worked with staff from three other universities, including Lasell University, and the American College Health Association to set up four vaccination sites across the state. The goal was to help inoculate health service staff and frontline workers from other colleges and universities across Massachusetts in order to help them protect their own communities from the infectious disease. As a result, approximately 1,000 frontline workers at 45 Massachusetts colleges and universities are being vaccinated.
“WPI is proud to support the commonwealth and the Massachusetts Department of Public Health in this critical work,” says Lisa Pearlman, director of Health Services at WPI. “This is part of our ongoing efforts to care for our campus community, and it enables us to help other academic institutions take care of their own communities.”
Going the Extra Mile to Help Statewide Vaccination Efforts and Other Universities
The vaccines were provided in line with the state’s efforts to support COVID-facing healthcare workers and the healthcare system. Because the number of healthcare staff and first responders at many of Massachusetts colleges and universities are, individually, too small to meet the criteria for batch distribution, WPI and three other institutions collaborated to set up and organize collective vaccination sites and to organize other academic institutions.
WPI is well positioned to help guide the distribution of vaccine. Over the summer and fall, the university established its own stringent health safety protocols, administered tens of thousands of COVID-19 tests on campus, and expanded its Health Services staff and clinical resources.
“As we were making headway for WPI, we realized we could help create a path for health care providers at many smaller colleges and universities to get vaccinated, as well,” says Pearlman. “Now 1,000 people who are on the frontlines of this COVID battle are being vaccinated. Ultimately, this will help university health care workers and first responders feel safer coming to work—and it could possibly save lives.
Pearlman notes this was a WPI team effort. Her entire health team, the legal team (particularly David Bunis, senior vice president and general counsel, and Amy Fabiano, associate general counsel), WPI Police, and President Laurie Leshin all working to make this project happen. Mass DPH and the American College Health Association also helped Pearlman with the project. “It took many emails and countless phone calls (including during the holidays) and hours and hours to organize all of this,” says Pearlman. “Within three weeks we went from having an idea to getting shots in arms. It was a tremendous effort, but this critical protection provides a great deal of relief and, as a bonus, it feels great to help so many people.”
Turning an Important Idea into Reality
At WPI this month, the first batches were administered to members of the university’s health services team involved in direct COVID-facing care, WPI Police, and first responders, and to similar staff from about 10 other area universities and colleges, including the College of the Holy Cross, Assumption University, Worcester State University, and Framingham State University.
Registered nurses and nurse practitioners from WPI’s health team, as well as volunteers from the other schools, administered the vaccines—with emergency backup care on hand in case anyone suffered an allergic reaction. The vaccine is administered in two doses, and it is important to receive both; those vaccinated have been notified as to when to receive their second dose, which also will be done at WPI.
While MassDPH continues to manage the strategic distribution of vaccine to those who need it most, it has not yet determined when the vaccine will be widely available to the general public, or to colleges and universities. WPI will communicate with students, faculty, and staff if or when the university receives vaccine for distribution.
Helping Other Higher Ed Institutions
Throughout the pandemic, WPI leadership has been actively involved in statewide efforts to help institutions of higher education support their campus communities and mitigate the impact of the crisis.
Last spring, President Leshin was tapped by Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker to be a member of his Reopening Advisory Board to provide advice on the state’s phased efforts to reopen business and economic activity following the initial emergency shutdown period in March 2020.
In turn, President Leshin convened a 14-member Higher Education Working Group to address the industry’s specific needs and develop a realistic framework to safely reopen campuses. Higher education is one of the state’s largest and most diverse sectors, with 106 institutions that educate 500,000 students and employ 130,000 faculty and staff.
That work also benefited from the understanding WPI gained by convening its own Medical Advisory Board several months ago in order to provide the university’s Coronavirus Emergency Response Team (CERT) with insight critical to campus planning efforts. The board of local and regional medical and safety leaders includes Rochelle Walensky, MD, chief of infectious diseases at Mass General Hospital, who has been named by President Biden to run the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.
“Throughout this pandemic, WPI has been able to innovate and pivot to come up with solutions to challenges," says Pearlman, "and protecting university health and safety staff was another example of how we can do that.”