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Health, Science & Tech

State Says Providers Must Help College Students Returning Home Get Their Second Vaccines

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Katie Blackley
/
90.5 WESA

Many college students are moving back to their hometowns this week, and some of them are between doses of the COVID-19 vaccine.

Danny Berlin, a 20-year-old actuarial science sophomore at Penn State University, said getting his first shot in was simple. “I saw in an article that they were going to be giving vaccines at the Bryce Jordan Center. So I signed up for a timeslot … it was really quick,” he said.

But when he scheduled his second dose appointment for a follow up clinic to be held at the on-campus arena, he realized something. It would be nearly two weeks after he moved away from campus back to his home near Pittsburgh.

Berlin expected to drive the more than five-hour round trip journey to get his second dose. But he shouldn't have to.

“Vaccine providers should work with college students to ensure they get their full set of vaccinations,” a spokesperson with the Pennsylvania Department of Health said. “If that is not possible due to a student returning home at the end of the semester, providers at the home location should work to ensure the college student gets fully vaccinated using the same vaccine they received as their first dose.”

That was welcome news to Berlin.

“I was not aware that they were supposed to work with us,” Berlin said. “If possible, I’d rather not drive back [to State College] just for a day.”

Federal and state officials have repeatedly said making getting shots easier is one way to combat vaccine hesitancy. As COVID-19 hospitalizations skew younger in Pennsylvania, officials are encouraging young people to get vaccinated. The Wolf Administration recently pleaded with college students specifically to get shots.

“Even if students are concerned about not getting their second dose while at school, it is important to seek out the vaccine now and to later find the second dose if needed,” state Department of Health Acting Physician General Dr. Denise Johnson said. “When fully vaccinated, students can travel home safely knowing they are armed with the best protection against this virus. Even when vaccinated, it is important to wear a mask, practice social distancing, and wash hands frequently.”

Saige Heigel, a 19-year-old strategic communications student at Westminster College in New Wilmington, Pa., decided to wait to get any shots until after she moves back home.

“It’d be a two hour trip there and another two hour trip [back],” instead of a 15 minute drive from her home in Kersey, Pa. she said. “It doesn’t seem very logical to me.”

Heigel said if she knew she could split doses between two providers in different counties, she may have gotten her first shot by now.

“If I [knew I] was able to go back home and get a second dose, that would be a complete game changer,” she said. But with only a few days before she leaves campus, Heigel will wait until she gets back home to Elk County.

After learning that providers should work to give him his second dose, Berlin said he’s more interested in trying to find his second dose closer to home.

“I’m definitely going to try,” said Berlin. He and his mother Deb have started asking around about Pittsburgh-area providers that can help get Danny his second dose. He said he’ll contact providers directly once he moves back home later this week.

Other students who spoke with WESA have had providers turn them away for a second dose. A spokesperson for the state health department said that doesn’t align with guidance they’ve given the more than 380 vaccine providers in Pennsylvania. The Health Department said suppliers should note a need for additional second doses for returning college students in their weekly request forms.

Though she’s waiting to get back home for her first appointment, Heigel said she’s excited to get vaccinated. “I would like to not worry about seeing my friends from home. We’re all scattered about from going to college,” she said. "[If we're vaccinated], we wouldn’t have to feel scared to be around each other and could go out to dinner or on a beach trip. It would be nice to have that extra safety net.”