City, state vaccination plans leave college faculty and staff out of early phases

By Amaris Edwards, Staff Reporter

Vicki Lei

Chicago’s earliest COVID-19 vaccination phases have left out college educators, and for those teaching in-person or hybrid classes and staff working on campus, this poses an issue.

Recommended vaccination priorities are generally suggested nationally by groups including the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, said Phil Arevalo, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Chicago. But states have the option to prioritize differently.

“The prioritization, as far as I understand it, is based on a few things,” Arevalo said. “One is trying to protect those who are most at risk of severe complications or infection. And that’s why the main prioritization was health care workers.”

Phase 1A, which includes vaccinations for health care employees, began Dec.15 with Columbia’s Student Health Center staff among those receiving the vaccination.

As of Jan. 21, Chicago has entered Phase 1B. This phase includes people 65 and older and frontline workers, like correctional officers, first responders, manufacturers, public transit workers, educators and those working in grocery stores, the U.S. Postal Service and food and agriculture.

While the phase includes educators teaching kindergarten through 12th grade, it excludes higher education faculty until Phase 1C.

“In terms of reducing the risk of death and severe disease, prioritizing and making the rollout of vaccination for people with preexisting conditions and the elderly are really the most important thing,” Arevalo said. “And if people are required to be working, then they should also be up there. Who’s required to be at work is the big meta-question.”

Diana Vallera, adjunct faculty member in the Photography Department, said college educators being overlooked in the plan is a problem.

Vallera, the president of the college’s part-time faculty union, CFAC, said the union and Columbia have both been trying to advocate for college educators to be included in phase 1B, but they are concerned they may not see the vaccine for months.

“I think we’re in agreement that we want to try to get this vaccine as quickly as possible to the faculty, staff and the community,” Vallera said.

Matthew Rillie, coordinator of Student Support and Engagement and a member of the college’s COVID-19 committee, said they believe staff who interact with students should be involved in the same plan as faculty.

“Efforts are often seen as separate for faculty and staff, but we believe our jobs are more similar than different,” said Rille, who is also the membership co-chair and contract action chair for the United Staff of Columbia College, or USofCC. “The city has made the rollout vaccine like ‘The Hunger Games.’ We need a centralized rollout that protects seniors, essential workers and those in education.”

On Jan. 21, an email was sent to faculty and staff regarding the college’s plans to vaccinate the Columbia community.

According to the email, the vaccine will be free and voluntary, and the college’s goal is to provide vaccines to employees and students, abiding by the priority groups designated by the State of Illinois’ and the City of Chicago’s COVID-19 immunization plan.

In a Feb. 9 email to the Chronicle, Lambrini Lukidis, associate vice president of Strategic Communications and External Relations at Columbia, said the college has voiced its concerns that faculty and staff working with students should be in phase 1B.

“Our industry group has also joined the calls in Springfield for inclusion. We have said this is about basic fairness and also about advancing education for our students,” Lukidis said.

A confidential survey was sent to all faculty and staff to determine the need for vaccinations on campus, and 745 people filled it out as of Feb. 9.

Among the faculty and staff responding, 90.2% responded yes, they would like to get the vaccine from the college; 4.0% responded no, they would not like to get the vaccine from the college; and 5.8% responded they were unsure.

Lukidis said the government will supply the vaccine to Columbia at no cost, and the college will pay for other expenses like equipment, facility preparation and staffing medical personnel.

“When it starts, and under which phase, is unknown,” Lukidis said. “The costs involved, which will mostly be personnel costs, will depend on when we do start and how many people get vaccinated on campus.”

While CFAC members have concerns about vaccination accessibility, Vallera said the financial effects of the virus on employees, including the increase in class sizes, are also troubling.

“One thing that we do have a concern about still is that there was an increase in class size and elimination of some of our electives,” Vallera said. “These kinds of directives that went out during the pandemic for spring, we’re certainly not in agreement with.”

Vallera said the union understands some of the financial decisions were made by the Provost office, but they hope to be part of the discussion going forward.

“It was our hope that we would have those conversations to be able to talk about how to address financial concerns without harming part-time faculty, full-time faculty or staff, and student learning during the pandemic,” Vallera said.

Vallera said she is pleased with how the college has been working with the union to reassure part-time faculty during the pandemic.

On Jan. 25, the union signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the college, a negotiated agreement to help give the union protections and resources and address part-time faculty concerns during the pandemic.

“I think there’s still work to be done, but it helps all of us when we get these arrangements in place,” Vallera said.

On Jan. 29, the college sent out an email encouraging members of the Columbia community to get vaccinated elsewhere if they can, as it may be some time a while before the school gets it.

The Jan. 29 email stated: “Members of the Columbia community who meet the criteria for the current phase should explore community and healthcare system-based options for vaccination, as some of those entities likely will be supplied with doses before it becomes available to midsize employers like Columbia.”

The email suggested options for vaccination shared by government entities: