Columbia Vaccine Policy and University Town Halls 

December 9, 2020

Dear Colleagues,

On Thursday, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is expected to meet and potentially grant emergency use authorization of a COVID-19 vaccine. This represents an important milestone in the pandemic. If the FDA authorizes a COVID-19 vaccine for use, the first doses of vaccine could be available to New York City by mid-month.

In preparation for this development and to discuss the implications for Columbia, a University-wide town hall on vaccine policy and distribution will be offered twice early next week. Each session will include up-to-date information regarding COVID-19 vaccines with a special focus on the two vaccines likely to be available in the coming weeks. Registration via the links below is required; you will receive a confirmation email before the event with instructions for joining.

  • Register here for the session on Monday, December 14, from 1:00 – 2:15 p.m.
  • Register here for the session on Tuesday, December 15, from 4:00 – 5:15 p.m.

During the sessions, a panel of members of the President’s Advisory Task Force on COVID-19 will answer questions regarding vaccines and the Columbia vaccination plan.

In the meantime, here is what we currently know:

Vaccine eligibility and prioritization will be determined by the state and the city based on CDC guidance. Useful background on that guidance can be found here. For Columbia University, the first priority group will be health care workers, i.e., patient-facing individuals.

A Vaccine Group, part of the University’s COVID-19 Task Force, is examining all aspects of vaccine policy and deployment. The group has developed a statement of principles (included below) to guide the University’s efforts and provide a framework for moving forward.

As soon as vaccines are available, vaccination will begin to be offered to individuals who have patient-facing responsibilities. Columbia’s representatives are working closely with New York Presbyterian Hospital, which expects to be a vaccine distribution hub. Because the number of doses available to the University within the first few weeks may be limited, the University has established sub-priorities within the first priority group. Eligible individuals will be notified directly via email and will be provided with instructions on how to obtain the vaccination. As of this time, our expectation is that vaccination of all individuals who are in regular contact with patients will be strongly recommended.

There is likely to be a considerable period between initial vaccination efforts and the point when all potentially eligible individuals will be able to get vaccinated. The University is developing policies and establishing priorities, once again consistent with city and state priorities, and will provide guidance on what other groups should expect.

As provided in the statement of principles below, the cost of vaccines administered by Columbia to its faculty, staff, and students, and all related costs of distribution and monitoring, will be covered by the University.

It is critically important to emphasize that availability of vaccines and/or receipt of a vaccine will not mean an early end to remote work or to the COVID-19 safety measures currently in force on campus. Those measures — limited space density, physical distancing, face coverings/masking, and other requirements — must remain in place well into 2021, even when many or even most members of the Columbia community will have been vaccinated. Those now working remotely should expect to remain remote, vaccine or no vaccine, well into 2021.

Columbia University COVID-19 Vaccine Plan

Statement of Principles
  • The University Vaccine Plan will apply, on a uniform and consistent basis, across all University campuses, schools, departments, and other units.
  • To promote access and high uptake, the cost of vaccines administered by Columbia to our own faculty, researchers, staff, and students will be covered by the University.
  • Deployment of vaccine(s) will be consistent with national, state, and local guidance regarding priority groups.
  • Achieving high uptake of vaccine and full dosing will be emphasized with monitoring of uptake and safety.
  • Information regarding the immunological responses to the vaccine(s) and the durability of such responses and factors associated with various response patterns will inform on an ongoing basis vaccine selection and appropriate target populations.

We are grateful, as always, for everything you are doing to keep our campus safe. We look forward to sharing more information at the webinar sessions next week.

With appreciation,

Ira Katznelson
Interim Provost
Ruggles Professor of Political Science and History

Anil K. Rustgi
Interim Executive Vice President and Dean of the Faculties of Health Sciences and Medicine 

Donna Lynne
Senior Vice President and Chief Operating Officer, CUIMC
University COVID Director