UP nursing majors struggle to get COVID-19 vaccination, despite priority status

By Mia Werner | February 2, 2021 11:42am

As nursing students become eligible to receive their dose of the COVID vaccine, some are finding difficulties securing a vaccination appointment.

Photo illustration courtesy of Adobe Images.

Many University of Portland Nursing students who are eligible to be vaccinated in Oregon are struggling to receive their inoculations, despite many starting in-person clinical placements this week. Oregon is set to administer 15,000 doses of the vaccine this week, with the majority earmarked for educators, leaving only a few thousand for healthcare workers, including nursing students. Now, the outlook seems bleak on if and when students will receive their shot. 

In December, Oregon Governor Kate Brown designated nursing students priority status 1A, meaning they were to be included in the first group to receive vaccinations. Students were instructed by the UP School of Nursing to seek appointments through their clinical sites or personal insurance providers, but many students struggled to get appointments as the state lacked enough vaccines for everyone in that tier. 

A breakdown of COVID vaccine eligibility.

Courtesy of the Oregon Health Authority

Ashley Cole, a junior nursing major, was able to get an appointment scheduled thanks to her mother, a nurse in the Bend area. 

“After I got my shot, I posted on social media about it and almost immediately got a bunch of messages asking me where and how I had gotten one,” Cole said. “Everyone was desperate to get their vaccine but no one knew where or how.” 

Back in December, the four major healthcare providers in the Portland area — Kaiser Permanente, OHSU, Legacy, and Providence — began their own rollouts of the vaccine. Many students whose clinical site is at one of these locations were able to get their first dose of the vaccine. Now, these providers are banding together to create one place for all eligible individuals to receive their vaccine at the Oregon Convention Center, which opened to appointments last week. After much confusion, this is where students are being directed to get their vaccinations. 

“These things are being updated and changed every single day,” said Dean of the School of Nursing, Casey Shillam. “Where we are now is in this transition phase where some students have received their vaccines through their clinical site. Now, they'll be eligible to get their second dose at the Oregon Convention Center. Those students who have not yet received their vaccine at a clinical site have been sent the information about how they can sign up directly through the online scheduling system for the Oregon Convention Center.”

Despite knowing where to go for their appointment, students are still running into trouble being able to secure one. 

Nursing students struggle to get their appointments scheduled for their vaccine.

Graphic by Emma Sells

Maddie Olson, a junior nursing major, has spent countless hours on the phone and monitoring the scheduling system and has yet to find a time to get her first dose. 

“It’s really frustrating that I’m doing everything I can and I’m going to the right place, but I still can’t get my shot,” Olson said. 

Shillam says she understands this frustration as well as anyone. She herself received her first dose through Kaiser Permanente, and now has been unable to make an appointment through the Oregon Convention Center for her second. She has been working closely with Legacy Health, who runs the scheduling system, to try to work out the kinks. 

When it comes to not being able to make an appointment, Shillam says, “the issue is that it depends completely on the number of doses that we receive in the state on a week to week basis. So, we have to wait until we receive those doses, then we can open up appointments for people.” 

Shillam is now also leading a team of administrators to help develop a vaccination strategy for the entire UP community. 

"We have established an internal team to develop and implement a vaccination strategy for our campus community," said Michael Lewellan, UP’s Vice President for Marketing and Public Relations, in a campus-wide email. “We are committed to ensuring that our UP community has access to vaccines as soon as possible.” 

While the internal team begins planning, there is no certainty as to when the Governor will open up vaccinations to healthy young people, like college students. 

Although nursing students are having to wait for their vaccines, they are still being tested regularly in the meantime. However, testing frequency does vary depending on the clinical site. 

Now, nursing students must wait and hope they can be scheduled at the Oregon Convention Center for their vaccinations, along with thousands of other Oregonians. 

“We really are in this together,” Shillam said. “I hope that the fact that the Dean of their school is also experiencing the same challenge in getting my schedule for my second dose, helps them see that we're gonna make it through this, that we have to tackle what we can control, and what we can accomplish in today. And then tomorrow we'll wake up and we'll do it all over again.”

Mia Werner is a reporter for The Beacon. She can be reached at wernermi22@up.edu.