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The Bus Ride Back to Normalcy

by Lucy Abigail Albright

A sign advertises the temporary “vaccine loop” to Westchester Medical Center in Valhalla (Photo by Lucy Abigail Albright).

On a chilly and overcast Thursday, students waited for a bus to a COVID vaccine clinic at Westchester Medical Center, which provided shots specifically for the Purchase College community.

Praise Uzuyem, a BFA acting major, found out about this opportunity the same way everyone did: “I read my emails, thank God,” she said.

Uzuyem said her mother had planned to find her an appointment at home. But after hearing about this clinic, she realized she didn’t have to wait until the end of the semester to get her shot.

“I called my mom,” Uzuyem said. “I'm like, ‘Mama, I think I'm just gonna go here and save the hassle, cause it's free and I have transportation to it.’”

On April 13, Patricia Bice, Interim Vice President for Student Affairs, sent an email saying that Westchester Medical Center would have vaccines specifically for Purchase students.

The vaccines would be available by appointment during the next two days, with a shuttle bus making the rounds to and from the vaccine site located in nearby Valhalla.

The Centers for Disease Control’s decision to pause the Johnson & Johnson vaccine was part of the reason for the short notice about these appointments. Since the SUNY system always planned to provide the logistically simpler one-shot vaccines to its students, the loss of the J&J shots threatened to disrupt vaccination at Purchase.

“I actually did get nervous when the J&J was paused because then I thought we were not gonna be able to have any [vaccine],” said Bice. “But like I said, the local health care providers are really stepping up—with even their own vaccines, not just the vaccines that we were able to get from our allocations.”

Bice said she got an email at the last minute from Westchester Medical Center saying they had two days available for a vaccine clinic where Purchase students could receive the Moderna shot.

Reese Cobban, a commuter who received their COVID vaccine during the first week, described an efficient environment at the Westchester Medical Center vaccine clinic.

“It was in and out, super easy,” they said. Cobban, who drove themself to the appointment, said the medical center provided free parking.

The email about the shots first went out to residential students, then to all students the next day. And when it became clear that there would still be slots left, “Human Resources let faculty and staff know that if they were interested, there were appointments readily available,” Bice said.

A few days later, Bice announced another set of appointments, this time for Pfizer, as well as an upcoming vaccine clinic at White Plains Hospital. Other upcoming vaccine clinics are listed on Purchase’s Vaccine Clinics page.

Though the college initially provided a shuttle to the medical center, the email announcing the next set of appointments didn’t include a transportation option.

Niara Spence, an arts management major who was waiting to get her shot through Purchase College, couldn’t attend the clinics on Monday and Tuesday because there was no shuttle service. And since a scheduling conflict prevented her from getting the shot on the days the shuttle ran, she was still unvaccinated as of the time of publishing.

Bice said the shuttle was stopped because of a low turnout of around 30 riders per day. Running a nearly empty shuttle is expensive, Bice said, so for the second dose appointments, she plans to find out who would use the bus and when.

It’s unclear how many students received their vaccines through Westchester Medical Center. Though the college can track student vaccinations that occur in New York through a state database, Bice said the medical center doesn’t provide data about how many students, faculty and staff attended the vaccine clinics.

Another potential source of vaccination data, the surveys that students fill out before getting tested for COVID every week, is also unavailable to the college.

Before the vaccine clinics were announced, Bice conducted a survey in which half of 142 students said that they had received a COVID vaccine. And last she heard, the data from the state registry put the number of vaccinated, on-campus students at around 10%.

In an NY1 interview, Jim Malatras, SUNY’s chancellor, said the school system will not mandate the vaccine as of now, but this could change if not enough students choose to get the shot by mid-summer.

Bice’s survey also asked about the number of Purchase students who planned to get vaccinated, and out of 90 responses, 93% said they would.

“What I'm hearing is that students do want to get the vaccine and are excited, but we haven't really done really strong data collection on that,” Bice said.



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