BU Experts Discuss Challenges of COVID-19 Vaccine Rollout

wtbu · BU Grapples with Challenges of COVID-19 Vaccine Rollout

By Yeelin Bacchus


The COVID-19 vaccine rollout at BU is well underway, with over 500 people vaccinated on the Charles River Campus already and orders for vaccines going out every week.  

When it comes to offering vaccines to students, BU has to adhere to the phased plan that Massachusetts has in place.

However, the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are two-dose vaccines, which complicates rollout for students once the semester ends.

“But one vaccine is better than no vaccine,” said Dr. Judy Platt, director of Student Health Services and co-chair of BU’s Vaccine Preparedness Group. “If we find ourselves in Phase 3  and we have students who are only able to receive one dose at that point, we hope to be able to offer just one dose, and that vaccines will be widely available so it would not be a challenge for someone to get their second dose if they go home or if they leave the state.”

Although vaccines may be available to the general public in April, Platt says students shouldn’t expect changes to happen during the spring semester.

“I really think the summer is really the earliest that we’ll be able to start looking at how this changes the protocols that we have,” she said. “For the time being—for this semester certainly—and especially as we learn more about the new variants and how the vaccine may be efficacious against those variants, we need to adhere to all the protocols that we have in place.”

That means students should still plan to wear masks, maintain distance, fill out the daily attestation, and be honest with contact tracers for the rest of the semester.

There are a number of challenges when it comes to vaccine distribution, including vaccine hesitancy. According to Platt, one source of hesitancy surrounds the newness of the vaccines and the use of mRNA technology. Some have voiced concerns that the virus may interfere with genetic material.

Platt also noted that disparities in healthcare adds to vaccine hesitancy.

“Not everyone has the same experience with our healthcare system in the US, or even worldwide,” she said. “There is not always the same level of trust amongst individuals for a variety of well-founded and good reasons.”

The vaccine’s side effects have been another major contributor to vaccine hesitancy. Here’s Dr. Davidson Hamer, a member of BU’s medical advisory group and the National Emerging Infectious Disease Lab.

“These vaccines do have some side effects, they are mostly mild to moderate—sore arm, sometimes a low grade fever, headache, chills, muscle aches—especially after the second dose of the vaccine, but generally that’s just about one day and it’s gone,” said Dr. Davidson Hamer, a member of BU’s medical advisory group and the National Emerging Infectious Disease Lab.

Platt also voiced her support for the vaccine and explained that more serious side effects from the vaccine, such as severe allergic reactions, are uncommon.

“I feel the science is sound upon which the vaccines were developed,” she said. “I think there is a lot of trust we can have in the vaccines in terms of the effects they have on individuals not only from the studies that have been done but in the ongoing monitoring that is occurring as millions of vaccines are given out.”

Platt urged students to find a trusted source, whether it be your primary care provider, a friend, a family member, or one of the nurses at Healthway who are available to answer medical questions about the vaccine, in order to make an informed decision.

Another key concern are new variants that increase transmissibility of  the virus. Hamer explained that preliminary testing shows that the vaccines we have do still provide some protection against variants.

“Although they may not neutralize the virus as well, they may still help prevent severe disease, hospitalization, and therefore potential death,” he said. “So they’re helping in terms of preventing more serious symptomatic infections, which is important. I think with time if they continue to evolve that they really escape the vaccines altogether, the vaccine manufacturers will have to modify the vaccine and that boosters would be targeted against more dominant strains that are circulating at the time.”

Wasted doses have been a big issue in vaccine rollout across the country. There are two ways a dose can be wasted. The first is if there is a failure in the refrigeration system. Platt explained that BU has extensive refrigeration backups and digital data loggers to monitor the temperature of the vaccines.

The second way has to do with extra doses in vaccine vials. For example, a 10-dose vaccine vial from Moderna may have enough for 11 doses, but vaccinators don’t know if that’s the case until they open the vial, and once a vial is opened there is a limited window of time to use the vaccine. To combat this issue, BU has backup lists of people to have on standby in case there are more doses than expected. 

When asked what the biggest challenge in vaccine distribution at BU is, Hamer cited logistical concerns regarding category 4 people who are not being regularly tested but would have to come on campus to receive their vaccine. Ultimately, he said that the biggest challenge is supply of the vaccine. Platt echoed these sentiments, saying that being a part of the phase that the state is in is not a guarantee that you will get the vaccine due to shortages across the state and country. 

Despite the challenges of  vaccine distribution, Platt expressed optimism and gave encouraging news about BU’s rollout.

“I’m thrilled to report that, in the over 500 doses that we gave thus far here on the Charles River Campus, not one dose was wasted,” she said.