The benefits and challenges of making WC a vaccination site

By Alaina Perdon

Elm Staff Writer

Chief medical advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci estimates about 80% of the population of the United States must receive the COVID-19 vaccine in order to reach the herd immunity threshold — the point at which enough people are resistant to the disease that its spread is significantly slowed. To achieve this goal, vaccination sites are being created rapidly across the country in settings ranging from pharmacies to YMCAs. 

Though it does pose a risk to the campus community, opening Washington College as a vaccination site could help give Chestertown residents access to the vaccine more quickly.

Offering vaccines in easily accessible community centers allows more people to receive it, especially those who may lack a primary care physician to visit, or a means of travelling to a facility in a larger town. Schools, usually a staple in even the most remote communities, are being heavily considered as vaccine venues because of their accessibility.

“Sprawl, gentrification, and cycles of disinvestment have led to markedly different access to drug stores, supermarkets, and medical facilities across the United States, but nearly all communities still have schools,” said Stephen Sawchuk of Education Week. “Centrally located and often at walkable distances for most residents, schools have the potential to serve as powerful vaccination hubs.” 

While Sawchuk’s article discusses public K-12 schools, the sentiments are still applicable to the College and the Chestertown community.

Anecdotally, Chestertown is most frequently navigated by foot rather than car, and there are only two public transit bus stops on the Kent County side of town. Limited modes of public transportation means travel out of town for a vaccine is not feasible for many residents, especially those living on a limited income. According to U.S. Census Bureau data, over 15% of Chestertown residents live in poverty.

There are presently three vaccination sites in Chestertown, each with a very limited number of vaccines available, according to Maryland’s COVID-19 response page: UM Shore Medical Center, Walgreens, and the Kent County Health Department Building. For mass vaccination sites, residents may have to travel as far as the Baltimore Convention Center, nearly 70 miles away. 

The College is fairly centrally located in town, accessible on foot from the downtown area and the surrounding housing developments. With facilities like Hodson Hall and the Gibson Center for the Arts designed to accommodate many people, the campus is capable of holding both the equipment and the crowds. 

While utilizing WC’s campus in this way would be of great benefit to the people of Chestertown, it could potentially compromise the safety of the campus community. Introducing potentially hundreds of outside individuals to College buildings on a daily basis essentially introduces hundreds of new chances for the virus to spread. Extreme precautions would have to be taken to limit the public’s contact with students and faculty, which would cost the College in resource use.

Furthermore, using a heavily trafficked area like Hodson would disrupt normal campus operations, like dining services.

But these hurdles are able to be overcome. For instance, the presently unused academic buildings can be temporarily repurposed. 

While opening the College as a vaccination site would come with its fair share of obstacles, it would help stop the spread of the virus in Chestertown, which would in turn benefit the College as well. Since the community so graciously hosts our college students even amidst a pandemic, perhaps providing them a much-needed resource is an appropriate show of gratitude.

Featured Photo caption: As the nationwide vaccine rollout gains momentum, some WC students are wondering if a building on campus could become a temporary vaccination site to be used by Chestertown citizens. Photo by March Vain Callahan.

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