Troy University’s struggle to receive COVID-19 vaccines has been one months in the making; involving other colleges getting doses, unfulfilled expectations, questions left unanswered and conflicting statements made by the state.
The Tropolitan learned in January the state had sent Auburn University and the University of Alabama a combined 10,500 coronavirus vaccines. Auburn received 7,000 doses, according to its website, while Alabama reportedly received 3,500 doses.
Despite the Alabama Department of Public Health at the time limiting vaccinations to “healthcare providers, nursing home residents, law enforcement officers, firefighters” and persons older than 75, the Tropolitan confirmed Auburn was vaccinating its own students and staff, seemingly contrary to the ADPH’s guidelines.
“Auburn is currently operating under Phase 1C of the university’s internal prioritization plan in the effort to vaccinate its faculty, staff and students,” Auburn said via email on Jan. 27.
After multiple attempts, The ADPH did not comment to the Tropolitan on why some universities were prioritized to receive doses before others – such as Troy. We also asked why Auburn could vaccinate students while those under 75 could not receive the potentially lifesaving vaccine. It wasn’t until the story broke that the health department responded – but not to the Tropolitan.
Dothan television station WDHN read the Tropolitan’s report and reached out to the ADPH and was granted a response the student newspaper was not.
The ADPH told WDHN that it would be looking into Auburn’s use of the vaccine. This was later retracted by the health department, saying Auburn had permission to continue its vaccination plan.
Less than 24-hours after the Tropolitan’s coverage, the state said Troy could see doses the following week, in the start of February – earlier than the anticipated April arrival date given to Troy’s Coronavirus Task Force chair Dr. Lance Tatum. The next week came, but the vaccines didn’t.
“We received an email from ADPH this afternoon that we will not be getting the vaccines as quick as they thought we would,” Dean of Student Services Herb Reeves said on Feb. 2. “We are waiting on a confirmation date for delivery.”
After five days, the ADPH responded to the Tropolitan.
“All entities who plan to provide COVID-19 vaccine have to be ImmPRINT providers with verification of factors such as ability to maintain the cold chain for vaccine, among other requirements,” Dr. Karen Landers said. “Some universities were already ImmPRINT providers with cold chain storage capacity.”
Tatum confirmed Troy University had the refrigeration necessary to store the vaccine at that time. Reeves later added that it was Jan. 27 when the university became an ImmPRINT provider with cold chain storage capabilities for the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine.
Approaching mid-February, the university and he Tropolitan were given conflicting answers from the ADPH as to why the state delayed doses of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine to the college.
The university said the school was told the state health department was taking a new approach to vaccine distribution, providing what would have been Troy’s allotment of vaccines to other locations in need.
“No,” ADPH told the Tropolitan when asked if the Moderna vaccines were being shipped to mass distribution locations in other cities, such as Dothan and Montgomery.
“These sites were Pfizer vaccines, and Troy does not have the freezer to store this product,” Landers said without providing an updated estimated date of arrival for Troy.
While Troy waited, some of its faculty didn’t. Following Gov. Kay Ivey’s announcement that educators would be considered “frontline workers,” professors began traveling 50 plus miles from the school to get inoculated.
“I was just waiting for the date when we would be included,” said professor of communication studies Dr. Amanda Diggs.
Diggs was able to track down a mass vaccination site in Montgomery. She drove there on Feb. 9, waiting from 11:15 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. inside her car, which was squeezed in a line of others trying to get a dose.
“I wasn’t expecting to be in the car that long, but it was an orderly process,” she said.
A vaccination site later opened up at the Troy, Alabama, Walmart. Faculty continued going off campus to receive vaccines – at least until the university’s March 2 announcement that the ADPH had sent Troy its doses.
“Troy has received 2,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine, and we expect to receive up to 6,000 more over the coming weeks,” Dr. Lance Tatum, chair of Troy’s Coronavirus Task Force, said in an email to school employees.
The school said it partnered with the health department as a state distribution center, with vaccines available to eligible members of the public beginning Thursday.
Troy said it will vaccinate healthcare providers, nursing home residents, law enforcement officers, firefighters, people 65 or older and additional groups of critical workers – including its faculty and staff while strictly following ADPH guidelines.