Some ineligible students receive COVID-19 vaccination due to university mistake


GVL / Sheila Babbitt

Rachel Matuszewski

When images of trucks carrying vaccines across the country played on the news, hope appeared that the efforts and hardships of the past year would not last and good things were on the horizon of 2021.

On March 3, an email was sent to the Grand Valley State University student body addressed to the campus community that vaccines were available to students. It stated there was a supply of extra doses due to no-shows and appointment cancellations. However, over 24 hours later, another email was delivered explaining the vaccine was meant for clinical students only. 

Junior Melanie Laforest jumped on the opportunity when the email arrived. She called the phone number the email provided, waited with 921 callers ahead of her, and was patched through to an operator at Spectrum Health who helped her schedule an appointment for the next day. 

After driving 30 minutes to the vaccination site, she stood in line with other students. Yet, some students who exited the doors in front of her warned their peers they had just been turned away with no explanation.

Confused, LaForest stayed in line with another student who was in line ahead of her to see for themselves. Once she approached the nurse’s table, she was turned away with one answer. 

“They asked if I was a college student and just said no,” LaForest said. “They didn’t really give me an explanation.” 

However, some students, like senior Emily Errington, were able to get the vaccine. When Errington saw the email appear on her laptop, she said her heart skipped a beat.

“I have always said the second I am able to get the vaccine that I would get it,” Errington said. “I did not expect that to be for months though. I knew this was the only opportunity I could have for a while and that if I was going to do it I needed to jump on it.” 

As her mind raced with the possibility of getting vaccinated and the consequences of the possible side effects, she hung up the phone shortly after her first call. But when she called back an hour later with the expectation that all of the appointments would be filled, her call was taken within minutes and she was scheduled for an appointment on that day less than two hours later. 

As calls filled the Spectrum Health line, time slots were disappearing. 

“I was willing to clear my entire schedule, so I told her any time would work,” said senior Kinnedy Coleman. “However, every time she tried to book an appointment, it would become unavailable as soon as she clicked on it.”

Senior Abby Bates received her first dose after reading through the email several times to double-check if there was a mistake, setting up an appointment when there were 500 callers. 

“When reading through the email, there were no specific notes that made it seem like the available vaccines were only to be distributed to a certain group,” Bates said. “Upon receiving the email, I actually re-read it a few times before calling to really make sure I was eligible to even make an appointment.”

It was not until over 24 hours later that the Virus Action Team sent out another email explaining their mistake. They said the vaccines were meant for students and faculty in clinical roles and not for the general campus community. 

“I was met with a wave of guilt,” Errington said. “I felt as if I had done something wrong since I should not have been able to get my vaccine the day prior. It was challenging for me to remind myself that I had not done anything wrong.”

No one at the vaccination center checked to see if Errington was a GVSU student, let alone in a clinical role. The Lanthorn has not received a comment from Spectrum Health at the time of publication. 

Those who received the first dose of the vaccine, clinical or non-clinical student, have the opportunity to schedule an appointment for the second dose. 

“Nobody made a fuss about the fact that I technically wasn’t supposed to be getting the vaccine, even though by then the health department had shut down the extra vaccine rollout, and GV had already sent out the second email rescinding the first offer,” Colman said. “I got sent a link to schedule the second dose a few hours after, and was able to schedule it with no issues.”

Despite the opportunity, students around campus were taken aback both by the opportunity and what followed.

“I am shocked that GV would make a mistake like this,” Errington said. “Our school has an amazing public relations and health communication program as well as a great connection with the hospitals downtown. It really goes to show that anyone can make a mistake at any time.” 

Now that some non-clinical students have received the vaccination, some students are wondering how long before the rest of the campus community can set up an appointment for their first dose. Even with age limits set in place, more students vaccinated means more protection on campus from COVID-19. 

“I’m of the opinion that high-risk people should get it first, obviously, but if there are doses that are about to expire, I don’t care who gets it,” Coleman said. “Even if it goes into the arms of ineligible people. Anyone is better than no one.”