Statement by USM Chancellor Jay A. Perman on COVID Vaccine Rollout

Baltimore, Md. (March 9, 2021) – Within the last two weeks, we’ve had significant good news in the fight against COVID-19: the FDA’s emergency use approval of the single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine (and the fact that, in an effort to speed production, Merck will help manufacture it); and the announcement that, by the end of March, Maryland will have at least one mass vaccination site in each region of the state. With three COVID vaccines now available and with vaccination appointments opening up, we anticipate that more Marylanders eligible for a vaccine will actually be able to get one.

Still, many are frustrated by vaccine scarcity—and rightly so. Slow vaccine production and significant supply chain challenges have caused inadequate supply and distribution bottlenecks. While we’ve worked closely with state officials to ensure that certain University System staff and faculty are prioritized for vaccination, neither the USM nor the universities themselves have the authority to secure vaccine doses for their campus communities. States are responsible for both vaccine acquisition and distribution.

However, several USM universities are now discussing with their local health departments whether they will be permitted to stand up on-campus vaccine distribution sites, serving their students and employees and, in certain cases, members of the surrounding communities. These sites would accelerate how quickly a university’s students, staff, and faculty can secure a vaccine and would provide a convenient place for doing so. Each university operating an on-campus vaccination site would establish its own priority categories for vaccine distribution among employees and students.

It’s currently unclear whether colleges and universities can or should mandate that students and employees be vaccinated against COVID. We can, however, strongly urge you to get vaccinated—to protect yourself and everyone with whom you have contact. We urge you to pay attention to Maryland’s vaccine priority categories and to register for an appointment when eligible.

The USM presidents and I are deeply proud that so many University System students have expressed interest in helping the state’s vaccine rollout. Working with the Maryland Department of Health, we’ve established a volunteer portal that will steer USM students to vaccination sites that need assistance in a variety of non-clinical roles.

As more Americans get fully vaccinated, it’s a time of great hope and anticipation. Without question, we desperately need both. But it’s in moments of relief that we tend to let our guard down and relax our vigilance. And we simply can’t afford to—because the pandemic isn’t over.

Whether you’re already vaccinated or, like many, awaiting a vaccine, you must follow campus protocols on COVID testing, mask wearing, distancing, hand washing, and gatherings. Off-campus, you must comply with county health mandates. These common-sense safety measures were how we kept infection spread under control without a vaccine, and—until we achieve herd immunity—they’re precisely how we’ll continue to keep people safe.

COVID vaccines will stop this pandemic, but only if most of us get vaccinated. These vaccines—their safety, their efficacy, the speed with which they were developed—are a powerful endorsement of the life-saving work we do in higher education. We cannot let that work go to waste. At this link, you’ll find answers to common vaccine questions.

The end of COVID is in sight. If we can be patient as problems with vaccine distribution are resolved, if we can sustain our healthy behaviors until the infection threat is minimal, we can, in time, get back to normal. That's the goal of the USM and each of our universities, and we’re pursuing every opportunity to get there as quickly as possible.

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Contact: Mike Lurie
Phone: 301.445.2719