For the first semester since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, a COVID-19 vaccine is available to the public, and members of the Binghamton University community are eligible to receive it.
On Jan. 11, New York state entered vaccination Phase 1B, expanding vaccine eligibility to include several new groups of New York state residents, including in-person university and college instructors. Though eligible for the vaccine, some BU professors said they have experienced initial difficulties booking appointments at the state-run Johnson City vaccination site. The site is located at 10 Gannett Drive, a building recently purchased by the BU Foundation last semester.
Andrew Walkling, an art history professor teaching in person this semester, was able to receive his first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine but noted challenges in the online application process, which he attributed mainly to the application website.
“The only way I was able to get an appointment was by getting up at 3:30 in the morning when the website was less crowded,” Walkling said. “I would say that once you have the appointment confirmed, the process is really easy and straightforward. It’s too bad that [New York state] hasn’t been able to put together better IT support to make the website work properly.”
Andrea Kastner, a lecturer of art and design teaching in person this spring, also experienced initial issues. Kastner had to book her appointment at 1:00 a.m., as the website crashed multiple times. Despite the hindrance, Kastner said she also felt the vaccination process went smoothly afterward, receiving her first dose and scheduling her second.
“Volunteers and employees at the site exuded happiness, and there was a great sense of relief and a light at the end of the tunnel for the first time in nearly a year,” Kastner wrote in an email.
While the vaccine distribution program and appointments are managed by New York state itself, some professors were disappointed by a lack of assistance from the University in distributing information, including Sebastien Lacombe, an assistant professor in the anthropology department who received his first dose of the vaccine.
“While I understand that BU — and SUNY in general — may not have much input over the vaccination process, it is actually disappointing that BU didn’t better assist those of us who will be on campus for in-person instruction this spring,” Lacombe wrote in an email.
Multiple professors noted that University United Professions (UUP), a union representing faculty and staff within the SUNY system, played an instrumental role in keeping them up to date with their eligibility, sending multiple informational emails.
“[The University] left that mostly up to professors themselves,” Walkling said. “It was our union that negotiated with state leaders so that professors teaching in person could be made eligible for the vaccine at this early stage.”
Kathleen Sterling, an associate professor of anthropology who has scheduled her first dose of the vaccine, also noted a lack of swift communication from the University.
“When the state made in-person college instructors eligible, we heard right away from a number of sources, but not how to register,” Sterling wrote in an email. “By the time I got something from the University, I had already made an appointment.”
Beginning Feb. 15, New Yorkers of any age with certain conditions, including moderate to severe asthma, will be eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine, which may include BU students. According to Ryan Yarosh, senior director of media and public relations at BU, the University will release updates for students when available, with current guidance available on the Department of Health website.
For the time being, professors feel optimistic about the increase in vaccine rollout, according to Kastner.
“Maybe because I had been so isolated at the point where I went for my shot, not having been around people other than my spouse and kids in weeks, but it felt like almost a carnival atmosphere of warmth and good cheer, allowing a shimmer of hope in a very bleak time,” Kastner wrote.