SUNY committed to vaccinating students, despite Johnson & Johnson setback

Photo courtesy of the State University of New York
Binghamton University student Jason Bernard Jr., pictured here receiving a Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccination from Mikayla DeGraw’19 and a Decker School of Nursing alumna in the University Union, April 7, 2021. New York’s pause on using Johnson & Johnson vaccines, following CDC suggestions after 6 people developed blood clots, could delay the state’s efforts to vaccinate college students this spring.

SUNY Chancellor Jim Malatras has issued a statement in response to new federal guidelines for pausing the Johnson & Johnson vaccine after a small number of users suffered rare blood clots. 

“SUNY is following the recommendation of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the New York State Department of Health to immediately pause, out of an abundance of caution, administering the Johnson & Johnson one-shot vaccine,” Malatras said Tuesday. “We are working with New York state to locate and receive alternative COVID-19 vaccines for our students. We urge all students with appointments for the Johnson & Johnson vaccine to contact their campus or vaccination site because alternatives have already been found in some instances.”

SUNY encourages students who received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, and are experiencing any unexpected negative health effects, to contact the campus health office or their health care provider. 

This follows the announcement one day earlier by Gov. Andrew Cuomo on April 12 that the state would be providing a separate supply of 35,000 Johnson & Johnson vaccines to vaccinate the student population at SUNY and private colleges. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine is one-dose which would have allowed for students to get vaccinated in one session in time for the end of the semester and to be fully vaccinated for the fall semester. However, the J&J vaccine will be put on pause for the time being. 

Initially, 21,000 vaccines were to be given to SUNY colleges and 14,000 would be administered to private colleges in the state so students could be vaccinated in the last few weeks of classes. These specific vaccines would be given to residential and non-commuter students who are leaving for the summer.

“The 18 to 24 population is growing in positivity, and many of them are in colleges and universities. It makes all the sense in the world to use the schools as the base for the vaccine,” said Cuomo. “This is the moment of opportunity and we have COVID on the run, but we have to stay New York tough and New York smart.”

Right now, SUNY is working with the state to find and receive alternative COVID-19 vaccines while the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is on pause.

Cuomo also announced that a new direct vaccine allocation would be administered to students at two state-run mass vaccination sites in Long Island, Suffolk County Community College in Brentwood and at SUNY Old Westbury in Old Westbury. Students would be able to schedule appointments through the schools and the process will allow for colleges to have a more efficient vaccination process.

This news also follows a joint statement that was released by SUNY Board Trustees, Chancellor Malatras and CICU Interim President Drew Bogner, on March 29 that welcomed the challenge of getting as many students vaccinated as they can. 

“Vaccinating students will be a major undertaking, but we are more than ready to take this on to help our state and our nation turn the page on this pandemic,” the statement read. “We are prepared to work aggressively to address misinformation, dispel myths, and communicate facts about the importance and impact of the FDA-approved COVID-19 vaccines.”

Malatras followed this up by announcing a program on April 6 that will address the need for SUNY students to be vaccinated before they leave for the summer using a one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine. The hope from this was that by giving students the option to get a one-dose vaccine, they won’t have to stay and wait weeks for the second dose. 

“Vaccinating SUNY students before they leave for summer break is the key to restoring normalcy on our campuses when students return in the fall,” said Malatras in a statement regarding the April 12 news. “Our students have been crystal clear on this issue: they want to get vaccinated. Between existing state and county-run sites on our campuses, emerging student-specific points-of-distribution, allocated vaccine doses, and a massive public awareness campaign—we will stop at nothing to get students vaccinated and to help end this pandemic.”

Currently, SUNY has conducted almost 1.9 million COVID-19 tests with a 0.46% positivity rate and as of April 12, they have also administered 900,000 vaccines on campuses with approximately 17,000 appointments scheduled each day.