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News >  Higher education

Washington State University to store, help distribute COVID-19 vaccine

Dec. 9, 2020 Updated Wed., Dec. 9, 2020 at 8:34 p.m.

Washington will begin rolling out the COVID-19 vaccine as early as next week, and Washington State University is set to help with the logistics.

As the distribution process moves along, WSU will have a direct role in receiving, storing and helping to distribute the vaccine throughout parts of Eastern Washington.

Specialized freezers will be employed for COVID-19 vaccine storage at the state’s request, said Colleen Kerr, WSU’s vice president for external affairs. As an R1 research institution, a doctoral university that prioritizes significant levels of research activity, as defined by the Carnegie Classification of Institutes of Higher Education, WSU has ultra-cold freezers capable of storing doses of the vaccine at suitable temperatures, Kerr said.

Meanwhile, WSU pharmacy students have been trained to administer the vaccine, college officials said.

“It will be a moment of complex coordinating and collaborating, and I think it’ll really allow us to fulfill our land-grant mission in the state,” said Kerr, referring to WSU’s status as a land-grant institution.

Kerr and other university officials discussed the school’s plans during a virtual COVID-19 town hall Wednesday. The event was the university’s last scheduled COVID-19 town hall of the year.

WSU has the storage capacity necessary to support the public health emergency needs of Adams, Asotin, Columbia, Ferry, Garfield, Lincoln, Pend Oreille, Spokane, Stevens and Whitman counties as well as the Colville, Kalispel and Spokane tribes.

Statewide vaccine distribution will follow parameters outlined by public health leaders, with initial vaccinations prioritized for health care workers who treat COVID-19 patients, as well as health care staff and residents in long-term care facilities.

Kerr said the WSU pharmacy students on the front lines of vaccine administration will also be part of that early wave of recipients. Those same students were also trained to collect samples for COVID-19 testing and will be tasked with conducting arrival testing in January for the spring semester.

“It’s a really exciting opportunity for our students to actually be supporting WSU, participating in the response to the pandemic and supporting all of our communities,” Kerr said.

As to whether students and staff will be required to get the vaccine when the time comes, university officials did not address the issue.

Returning to campus

A majority of WSU’s undergraduate and graduate students learned remotely for the fall semester due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The spring semester will be similar, university officials have said, though WSU has plans for pre-arrival testing for students, faculty and staff who need to return to the Pullman campus and the WSU Health Sciences Spokane campus. The semester is set to start Jan. 19.

At the Pullman campus, arrival tests will be required for students living on campus, as well as those seeking access to on-campus services, taking in-person classes or participating in approved athletic programs, WSU officials said Wednesday. The university will cover the costs of the arrival tests.

Regarding housing on the university’s Pullman campus, Jill Creighton, associate vice president of student affairs, said registered students should have been emailed information by now on move-in procedures. These include using no more than two guests to help move and arriving at the Beasley Coliseum at a specific time slot; the university is using the coliseum to ensure social distancing.

The Spokane campus will have many of the same regulations, as testing will be required for students attending campus for coursework and/or research, as well as on-campus faculty and staff in research or clinical environments, said Spokane campus Chancellor Daryll DeWald. These protocols also extend to University of Washington and Eastern Washington University students who use the Spokane campus.

“What we’re trying to achieve is as safe of a program as possible,” DeWald said.

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