Since Minnesotans age 16 and older became eligible for the vaccine nearly four weeks ago, all three Duluth colleges have had vaccine clinics on campus.

"We have a captive audience right now," said Christine Sandal, clinic manager and registered nurse with the College of St. Scholastica's Student Health Service. "The students are going to be here and then once they're gone (for the summer) a lot of them are disseminating into other communities. To try to tackle that, we thought was important."

St. Scholastica's clinic staff of four administered the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine to about 200 students between April 7-12. Their target population was students living on campus. Sandal told the News Tribune on Friday that the college has been sitting on an allocation of that vaccine since the pause was issued April 13.

"Whoever wants it, we're gonna get it into arms, that's our goal," Sandal said in anticipation of the federal government lifting the pause on Friday.

Christine Sandal
Christine Sandal

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Because spring semester ends in just a few weeks, colleges have run out of time to host more clinics unless they're able to use the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine or get permission to offer one dose of the other vaccines to students, who would then be responsible for finding their second dose elsewhere, Sandal said.

She's hoping the college can host another vaccine clinic using its Johnson & Johnson supply during finals week.

Not all of their vaccine appointment slots were taken when the college held the clinics a couple weeks ago, but Sandal said she's not reading too far into that since that could be due to scheduling conflicts, students wanting to wait until after the semester is over or having already scheduled an appointment elsewhere.

"I wonder if students are waiting until after finals. It's a little bit of stress right now, do they feel they can't afford to be sick right now if they get the vaccine," she said, referring to some of the common side effects people experience after receiving their vaccine.

Sandal said she's trying to figure out what barriers college students face that might be preventing them from getting the vaccine.

Adam Shadiow with Northeast Healthcare Preparedness Coalition said Sandal and Dr. David Worley with the University of Minnesota Duluth's clinic have attended the coalition's vaccine meetings every week.

"Once things opened up to pretty much everyone, they asked for an allocation," Shadiow said. "They brought the idea to us, and all we do is point vaccine in the right direction and it sounded like a great idea."

In the last five weeks, the 20-24 age group has logged had the most new cases of COVID-19 in St. Louis County, with the exception of April 9-15, when it had the second-most cases after those between the age of 15-19, but Shadiow said timing was the main driving force behind allocating vaccines to schools.

Shadiow then approached St. Louis County Public Health and Essentia Health asking if they'd be willing to collaborate and redistribute vaccine allocation to the schools, said Katie Albert with the county's public health team.

"We know there's a lot of transmission that happens in that age group. The numbers are there and a lot of them are living in what you could consider a congregate living center, being in the dorm," Albert said.

St. Louis County Public Health vaccinated students and employees on the Lake Superior College campus on April 15. The county offered the Moderna vaccine, but was originally going to give the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

Between April 9-12, Essentia Health administered single-dose vaccines to about 500 UMD students in the Kirby Ballroom, said UMD's Vice Chancellor for Student Life and Dean of Students Lisa Erwin.

"We were so excited when (Gov. Tim Walz) announced in March that we're going to begin with the general public March 30," Erwin said. "So Dr. Worley and I began reaching out to area partners to figure out if we'd be able to have a mobile clinic on campus."

Dr. Lisa Erwin
Dr. Lisa Erwin

At this point in the semester, Erwin said UMD isn't focused on hosting another mobile vaccine clinic. Instead, the university is focusing its efforts on making sure students know what options are available to them in the community.

"By the time we had clinics ready to offer students, we had a ton of anecdotal evidence that our students were finding it all over this community, as were our faculty and staff," Erwin said.

Over the summer, Erwin said UMD will put time into figuring out how to address any vaccine hesitancy and building confidence in students and the community.

Across the state border, the University of Wisconsin-Superior has been home to a community vaccine clinic since April 13. Wisconsin expanded vaccine eligibility to age 16 and older on April 6.

This story was updated at 8:41 a.m. April 27 to correct a word in quote. It was originally posted at 5 p.m. April 24. The News Tribune regrets the error.