Lack of College Transportation to Vaccination Sites Leaves Students Scrambling

Before the college provided guidance on Covid-19 vaccination appointments and transportation on April 8, over 100 students had already received permission to attend off-campus Covid-19 vaccine appointments. These students had to navigate the process of scheduling appointments and coordinating transportation on their own, pooling resources and working together to secure and attend their appointments.

Upon entering Phase 2 of the Massachusetts vaccination eligibility timeline on March 20, students with one or more of certain medical conditions, as well as those employed by the college became eligible for the Covid-19 vaccine. While the administration encouraged students to schedule vaccine appointments, until the April 8 communications, students had no guidance in doing so. 

Several students faced challenges securing an appointment, scouring the internet and relying on information they had heard through the grapevine to find nearby vaccination locations. Jaden White ’23, who has two qualifying conditions, was unable to secure an appointment through the official pre-registration process. “When I was trying to find it on my own online, it was not working,” said White. “If someone hadn’t given me a link I would not have gotten [the appointment].”

White relied on the advice of a friend who had already been vaccinated in order to snag an appointment. Their friend, who has asthma and is obese as defined by the BMI scale, directed them to an unofficial link. “Basically, someone at the post office got a link that bumped you up on the vaccination priority list. I surpassed the other people and was able to sign up,” White said. 

Upon successfully booking an appointment, White passed on the sign-up information to a network of other students with qualifying conditions. White and their friends booked appointments for the same day and went to receive the vaccine together.

Anna Hogarth ’23 was also unable to find a vaccination through the state’s designated webpage. “When I was trying to find it on my own online it was not working,” Hogarth said. After a lengthy online search on the general Massachusetts vaccinations website and blog posts, Hogarth was ultimately able to find her appointment through @vaccinetime on Twitter, a bot run by the Massachusetts-based company Ginkgo Bioworks. The account tweets vaccine appointment sign-up links for sites in Massachusetts. 

Some students bypassed the complications posed by the state’s website altogether. Nora Bannon ’24 was contacted for an appointment at Boston Children’s Hospital where she is a patient. Meanwhile, Claire Taylor ’23 and Jeanyna Garcia ’23 drove to their home state of New York for their appointments, since they became eligible in New York before in Massachusetts.

There were other eligible students, however, who were able to find nearby appointments more easily. Maggie Drew ’22, an EMT on the Amherst College Emergency Medical Services (ACEMS), reported that she “had no difficulties” making an appointment at the UMass vaccine clinic. Haley Greene ’21, another ACEMS EMT, noted that she did have some initial trouble finding a UMass appointment, but once it was secured, she found the process straightforward. 

After securing their appointments, students faced the logistical complications of coordinating transportation. Because many do not have a driver’’s license or a vehicle on campus, they relied on the generosity of their classmates, Association of Amherst Students (AAS) vehicle loans or last-minute Uber rides. Drew and White, for instance, received permission from the Health Center to be driven to their appointments by friends with cars on campus. 

Taylor and Garcia drove to their New York appointment together using an AAS vehicle, and Deb Thayer ’24 also received an AAS vehicle to drive to the Eastview Mall in Springfield. 

The college could not provide another form of transportation for Hogarth, who went to Northampton, and Bannon, who went to Boston. As a result, the two used Uber to get to their appointments. Hogarth went to her appointment with a friend who was also getting vaccinated. 

Bannon described the process of calling an Uber as “nerve-wracking” because “there [weren’t] many drivers in the area,” and she was not sure if she would get the Uber in time. White said their friend had a similarly “nerve-wracking” experience when booking an Uber. 

In an interview with The Student, Emily Jones, the director of student health services, relayed that “Student Affairs, including Health Services, has worked with students to approve their departure from campus for vaccine appointments, to assist in coordinating transportation when needed and to support quarantine when students returned to campus if it was needed.”

Though White said the college “is trying to be as supportive as they can,” she advised low-income students to be mindful of the possibility that they may be footed with a hefty Uber bill. “My friend, for example, was able to get a vaccine [appointment] and needed transportation last minute,” she said. “The college [eventually] offered to set it up for her, but she didn’t get a response for a bit — so that was kind of nerve-wracking! We ended up booking transportation elsewhere and she had to pay for it out of pocket.”

Regardless of where they received the vaccine, students described the on-site vaccination process as smooth and well-organized. “I got it, he went really fast, it didn’t hurt at all,” Thayer noted. “And then I went and sat down for 15 minutes to make sure I didn’t go into anaphylactic shock or anything. And then I left!”

Students also expressed hope that everyone will be able to get vaccinated soon. Garcia put things into perspective: “This is a pretty cool event,” she said. “We’re kind of transitioning to a new period of time.”

Many more students are eager to participate in that transition when they become eligible in Massachusetts on April 19. Nyla Guadalupe ’23 and Susannah Auderset ’23 have already begun making plans. Guadalupe has been asking other students for information on where to find appointments. “I’ve been checking occasionally even though I know that I can’t get one right now, just to see how things are looking,” she said. She has considered traveling to New York for her vaccine, but “assume[s] that it would be easier to get one in Massachusetts.” 

Auderset, too, has been looking at the scheduling websites, noting that “this process would be a lot easier” if she were allowed to schedule an appointment ahead of time instead of having to wait until April 19 to begin that process. She has been looking at the collaboration between the Color-Massachusetts vaccine collaboration, the links sent in the email from Agosto and a sheet of resources posted in the on-campus GroupMe. She wants to get vaccinated as soon as possible, because she would like to receive the second dose before going home.

Both Guadalupe and Auderset expressed disappointment that the college has not been able to do more to vaccinate its students. “My friend goes to Bryn Mawr, and they basically set up a place where you can get [the vaccine] on campus for all of their students,” Auderset said. “So I wish there was something like that. I know that probably has to do with how the town and the state itself is handling [the vaccination roll-out], but [……] with all the guidelines [……] I just expected more from Amherst.” 

“I expected the college to be more transparent,” Guadalupe added. She was “surprised that it took them this long” to send out information about getting vaccinated. She still has questions, such as whether the college would allow students to take public transportation to receive the vaccine. “Most of the information I have been getting is through other students,” she said. 

To those still searching or waiting for an appointment, Garcia and Taylor recommend sharing resources and checking the appropriate websites at the exact time that new appointments are added. Taylor added that checking the on-campus GroupMe is worthwhile, and Thayer recommended joining the waiting list by pre-registering for an appointment at one of Massachusetts’s mass vaccination locations. 

Students also suggested registering for weekend appointments to avoid conflicts with classes. Due to post-vaccine side effects, White said that students should “try to get it on a Friday so hopefully [they are] feeling better by Monday.” 

Hogarth pointed out that not knowing your schedule beforehand could also cause difficulties with registration. “Many times I would take too long to find a perfect time in my schedule, and by then all the vaccines were taken,” she said. “If you know the next few days are going to be rough, don’t even try. And if you have free days coming up, that would be good to try.”