Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis expanded the eligibility of COVID-19 vaccines to people 40 years or older starting March 29 and those 18 and older starting April 5.
Students and faculty can pre-register for a vaccine through the Florida Department of Health in Alachua, said Dr. Michael Lauzardo, the director of UF Health’s Screen, Test and Protect program.
The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine will also be available for people 16 and older starting April 5. All vaccines are open to those 18 and older.
UF plans to collaborate with the FDOH to offer vaccines to students, faculty and staff in accordance with state guidelines, Lauzardo said. Plans for testing sites, as well as dates and capacities for immunizing the new groups, aren’t finalized yet. More details will be released this week, he said.
UF might use Ben Hill Griffin Stadium and the Cultural Plaza parking garage on Hull Road as future vaccination sites, Lauzardo said. Both areas have been used as vaccination sites previously. He said the sites’ hours will cater to students with availability later in the day.
The University of Central Florida started offering vaccines to all faculty March 11, but UF followed the state’s lead on vaccine distribution. Other universities, like Florida State University, the University of South Florida and the University of Miami, are all following state guidelines.
Vaccine recipients will be able to opt out of the biweekly on-campus testing two weeks after receiving their final doses, Lauzardo said. They can also be excluded from isolation protocols if an individual is contact traced from an infected person.
"This is exciting," he said. "We want to just get going and do this as safely, efficiently and as quickly as we can because the sooner we get immunity, the sooner we get back to normal.”
Everyone should get the vaccine to help the university roll back social distancing policies, he said. Routine testing, masking and quarantine availability will be scaled back if immunization counts on campus stay strong.
Lauzardo said recent upticks in on-campus cases indicate these practices must be kept in place for now. Eligibility opening to college-aged people will help suppress the most active spread.
Masking, testing and social distancing guidelines for Summer B and Fall 2021 have not been finalized. The university is planning close-to-normal Summer B and Fall semesters. More than 70% of course offerings in the Fall will be in person, which reflects the percentage of in-person offered before the COVID-19 pandemic.
As of March 24, more than 11,000 people in Alachua County have been vaccinated in collaboration with FDOH, Ken Garcia, a UF Health spokesperson, wrote in an email.
More than 100,000 doses have been administered in Alachua County through UF Health, the county health department, retail pharmacies and medical practices, he wrote.
Faculty found other ways to get vaccinated in the meantime, with some traveling as far as Alabama. Many members have been vaccinated at FEMA sites in other cities, Lauzardo said, but those who haven’t will be included in the developing plans.
The United Faculty of Florida, UF’s faculty union, arranged for a bus to take about 15 UF faculty members to get vaccinated at the FEMA site in Jacksonville March 13. UFF-UF paid about $1,000 for the trip, former UFF-UF president Steven Kirn said.
Kirn said getting vaccinated is a life-or-death situation, and he was happy the union got a chance to help.
“It’s kind of expensive to send a bus over there,” Kirn said. “But we were glad to do it because it's not nearly as expensive as having somebody get sick.”
Sylvie Blum, a UF French and film professor, was one of the about 15 people to go on the UFF trip to Jacksonville to get vaccinated.
Blum was grateful the trip was organized because she feared driving back from Jacksonville alone after getting the vaccine. She didn’t want to possibly suffer side effects while on the road.
She received the Pfizer vaccine, which requires two doses and will need to go back to Jacksonville to get the second dose. UFF has not planned a trip back to Jacksonville.
“I’m just very grateful for the union to organize that. It was such a relief,” Blum said. “The return back was much more joyful.”
Contact Alexander Lugo and Manny Rea at email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow them on Twitter @AlexLugo67 and @ReaManny.
Manny Rea is a journalism sophomore and the current health reporter for The Alligator. He worked as a copy editor in his freshman year before moving over to the Avenue in summer 2020. He likes to listen to dollar-bin records and read comics, and he is patiently waiting to go back to movies and concerts.
Alexander is a fourth-year journalism student at UF. This is his first semester at The Alligator where he is covering university administration. In his free time, he enjoys taking hikes and going for bike rides.