Florida will allow people 16 and older to be vaccinated starting Monday. It's a moment that Michael Lauzardo, assistant director of the University of Florida's Emerging Pathogens Institute, has pondered for 14 months since the extent of the coronavirus pandemic became clear.

Lauzardo oversees the university Mass vaccination efforts, should also start on Monday. In cooperation with health authorities in the district, the university plans to vaccinate 20,000 students and community members a week for six weeks.

"All we were working towards was up to that moment," he says. "We knew this was our only way out."

Universities everywhere are finding out their vaccination strategies. Rutgers University and Cornell University announced that students will need to be vaccinated to attend this fall, a move very few other colleges have taken so far. Other institutions encourage students to get vaccinated but stand before a mandate. Some have not developed formal vaccination plans, but rely on existing local health efforts.

The University of Florida is planning a comprehensive vaccination flash. It's not the only one. For example, the University of Arizona already has 100,000 doses administered. Large universities like this could be instrumental in bringing the U.S. pandemic under control before more transmissible variants of the virus spread further. This requires close communication with local health authorities and determined efforts to address the vaccine hesitation.

The linchpin of Florida's efforts is a relationship between the university and local pre-pandemic health officials, including medical experts who work for both the university and local government. The partnership is a natural fit. Alachua County is providing the vaccine from its state grant. The university has assembled a small army of voluntary vaccines and provides logistical support such as: B. the revision of the Ministry of Health's planning system by the IT department. The main vaccination site is the campus football stadium.

"One of the most important intangibles is blurring the lines between silos, between the county, the university, and the state," says Lauzardo. “Of course we try to obey the law and all ethical principles and regulations, but we blur the other lines. We don't just say: "We are UF, we will take care of our people." We really can't. "

According to official information, student demand for vaccinations is strong. The university opened appointment registration on Tuesday. Within 24 hours, 9,000 students had signed up, and by Thursday about 200 were signing up an hour. Lauzardo says there are about 52,000 college students in Gainesville, Florida and he hopes about 30,000 of them will be vaccinated through local efforts.

It is a concern of the officials to maintain this large number throughout the six-week campaign. You have turned to aggressive local contacts. A community communication committee that includes local beliefs, business and elected leaders meets every Friday evening. Marketing materials are designed for the underserved communities officials seek to reach, with representative pictures and quotes from locals who have already received vaccines. "It's not just health care workers who help convince people to get a vaccination," said Selena Carter, creative director of UF Health Communications.

If we do a really good job and vaccinate quickly, this will end in June in my opinion. If we don't, we will pull this out.

Among the religious leaders is Gerard Duncan, the pastor of Faith Family Ministries prayers in Gainesville, who once hesitated to vaccinate himself – until he signed Covid-19. At that point, "things became real".

Duncan, who is black, initially believed that finding a vaccine to protect, rather than putting one's belief in God, would be a betrayal of one's beliefs. He now speaks to members of the community about the same feelings and fears that are rooted in the country's ugly history of medical experimentation with blacks. "It often happens that they're trying to kill us or that I don't know what's in this stuff," says Duncan, adding that he has convinced older blacks who have never had a vaccine before to get a covid. 19 vaccine.

The vaccination effort could strengthen urban-rural ties, Duncan says. The presence of prestigious research universities in cities has not in the past resulted in the disparities in underserved communities being eradicated, the pastor adds. Partnerships such as the vaccination campaign therefore help fulfill a college's duty to its city.

Lauzardo is optimistic. He doesn't support a vaccine mandate, at least not for now. Everyone doesn't need to be vaccinated to achieve herd immunity, he says, and he believes officials with adequate education and trusted sources of information could vaccinate 80 percent of the population – enough to wipe out the virus. However, he admits that it is not known what role the vaccine's hesitation will play. He also wishes the country's broader vaccination efforts were more urgent.

"No university is an island in itself," he says. "The fire we are building has to be caught elsewhere. April is probably the most important month in our efforts to end the pandemic. And if we do a really good job and vaccinate quickly, I think it will end in June. If we do don't do that, we'll pull that out. "

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