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Vaccines 101: How college students can get their COVID-19 shots

Northeastern University announced Tuesday that students are required to be vaccinated against the coronavirus before returning to campus in the fall.Pat Greenhouse/GLOBE STAFF

If everything goes according to plan, the fall semester at some Massachusetts universities could resemble pre-pandemic life. Dining halls brimming with students. Lecture halls sans social distancing. Math, history, and business majors mingling around campus, each with a patch of grass to call their own.

This ideal future rests on one major factor: widespread vaccination.

Thousands of university students, already robbed of the traditional four-year experience, eagerly await their shots and an end to Zoom classes. But students face obstacles as they navigate the vaccine distribution process. Living between states — with just weeks until the spring semester ends — could present a challenge for those receiving the two-dose Moderna or Pfizer shots. And a growing number of college administrations are still deciding if, or how, the shots will impact campus reopenings this September.


“It’s inevitable that vaccines will affect the way colleges operate going forward,” said Dr. Michael Siegel, a professor of community health sciences at Boston University.

Here are the answers to some lingering questions on college students and vaccines.

Can you get vaccinated in Massachusetts if you don’t live here all year?

Yes, vaccine doses supplied to Massachusetts are open to individuals who live, work, or study here. That means college students from other states, who may reside in the Bay State for just six months of each year, can secure an appointment at state-run facilities. (Here are some tips to find a slot.)

Eligibility is currently restricted to residents above 55 or those living with comorbidities. But the floodgates open April 19 when every American can secure an appointment. As of April 1, only 1 percent of teens and 11 percent of adults between 20 and 29 had been fully vaccinated.

What if you leave Massachusetts before the appointment for your second dose?

Many students will vacate dorms and off-campus apartments come May to return to family homes or flock to summer internships. In Massachusetts, anyone who received the first dose of Pfizer or Moderna, regardless of where it was administered, is eligible to receive the second dose in the state with their vaccination card, according to the state website.


Whether this rule applies in other states is unclear.

“We can’t comment on eligibility for individuals in other states for their second dose if they received the first dose [in] MA,” said Kate Reilly, a spokeswoman for the state’s COVID-19 Command Center. “These rules may vary from state to state.”

If possible, spreading out the two doses among two states is a hassle to be avoided.

The Michigan website says you “might be able” to get the second dose in another state depending on the availability. A Nevada representative told the Las Vegas Review-Journal that officials have helped people who moved or those who could not get their second dose in their home state become fully vaccinated. But individuals in states like Florida and Alabama ran into roadblocks with second doses — or were refused outright — after first receiving the shot elsewhere.

One CBS report said getting both doses in the same location helps with the federal and state vaccine supply chain.

Are colleges administering vaccines to students?

Right now, no.

Multiple universities — Northeastern, Babson, Boston University, UMass Boston, and more — received doses early this year to vaccinate community members included in Phase 1 of the state rollout. That includes people like front-line and emergency workers, student first responders, clinical staff, custodians, and medical students. (Northeastern received at least 3,000 doses and Harvard at least 1,100, according to college representatives.)


But the state halted this distribution in February due to limited federal supply. Instead, officials redirected doses to mass vaccination sites, medical facilities, and pharmacies.

If the state government resumes vaccine supply to universities, administrators are ready. Emerson College, for example, is “continuing to explore the possibility of setting up a vaccination clinic with Tufts Medical Center at the start of the fall semester, should the supply chain open up,” Assistant Vice President Erik Muurisepp wrote in an e-mail to the Globe. A Suffolk University representative said the plan to partner with another school for vaccine distribution is “on hold” until the supply to colleges rises again.

Before the switch, more than 12,000 vaccine doses were delivered to colleges in the state, according to data from the Massachusetts COVID-19 Command Center on April 1.

Will you need the vaccine to come back to school?

Possibly. On Friday, Boston University became the latest local college to say it will require students to be vaccinated against COVID-19 before returning to campus this fall. BU joins Northeastern, Brown, and Roger Williams University in mandating the shots.

Other schools are taking a more cautious approach and waiting for the go-ahead from the US Food and Drug Administration. All three vaccines currently administered in Massachusetts — Moderna, Pfizer, and Johnson & Johnson — are distributed under emergency approval.


“Until the vaccines get full FDA approval, we will not be requiring vaccinations,” a Suffolk University representative wrote in an e-mail.

That said, every college strongly recommends students get vaccinated.

“The leaders of the Institute and MIT Medical are strongly encouraging vaccination,” a representative of MIT wrote in an e-mail. “These campus leaders, as well as the nation’s top medical experts, believe that the vaccine represents the best way for individuals to keep themselves, their families, and their communities safe from COVID-19.”

Diti Kohli can be reached at diti.kohli@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter at @ditikohli_.

Diti Kohli can be reached at diti.kohli@globe.com.Follow her on Twitter @ditikohli_.