MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Some parents and students at the West Virginia University School of Medicine are unhappy with how they perceive the COVID-19 vaccine rollout.
Many parents and students are penning and voicing their complaints about what they see as an unfair process. Some argue that they should be included in phase one of vaccine distribution because they work closely with patients. However, Dr. Clay Marsh, dean of the WVU School of Medicine, said the university is not trying to undermine any student’s safety and plan to make sure vaccines are distributed in a fair manner.
“Every parent wants to make sure that their child is protected, and we do too,” Marsh said. “But there is some difference between the absolute risk of certain care providers having less contact with people who are COVID positive or less contact with airway processes, like in the ICU, operating room, people who work with ear, nose and throat people.”
According to the university, WVU Medicine tests all inpatients as they are admitted. If a person tests positive, there is no student contact. A student may be assigned to a patient who later tests positive after developing symptoms and the student is then reassigned.
Priority will be given to students who work internships, fellowships, and residencies in hospitals because they are considered professionals who have graduated and work with any patient in the hospital.
Students who fit in this category are in phase one of vaccine rollout for this reason, and hospitals like WVU Medicine handle their doses. Vaccine rollout for students who aren’t considered essential frontline workers will be handled by WVU and the Higher Education Policy Commission.
Marsh said for everyone to rest assured that the plan is to get everyone vaccinated.
“Over time, we’re going to try to vaccinate all of our clinical students to protect them,” he said.
The issue now is getting enough vaccines for everyone in the next phase when most students’ turn.
“We are very highly cognizant that we do have a limitation in the number of vaccines,” Marsh said. “We do have a state plan that looks at prioritization and we do know that students are on the list and we want to carefully be able to give vaccines to students as are available. But as we’re waiting to have sufficient vaccines, to immunize all of our clinically active students. We’re very much proponents for personal protective equipment.”
In fact, Marsh said, the use of PPE has been highly effective. As far as the medical school knows, no student has ever directly contracted COVID from a patient, only through community spread.
Once vaccines are ready for students in the next phase, there will be more prioritization, Marsh said. The university will create a multidisciplinary group to find the most effective way to distribute vaccines.
“We want to make sure we are being fair,” Marsh said. “But we also want to make sure we are prioritizing that has the highest risk of exposure.”