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UNSW gives on-campus residents exclusive access to Pfizer jab

It is unclear why college students have been given priority access to the vaccine.

Students living in on-campus accommodation at UNSW have been offered exclusive early access to the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine by the UNSW Health Service. The offer was not extended to the general student population, to whom the university is currently only offering AstraZeneca.

While on-campus residents living in close quarters are at risk of COVID, they are not officially covered under the current state government rollout strategy, meaning it is unclear why they have access to the vaccine. This comes as the state’s broader Pfizer vaccine supply is directed away from areas in lockdown, like the Central Coast, where essential workers’ vaccination appointments have been cancelled as the NSW Government moves to prioritise Year 12 students. 

When contacted by Honi Soit, a UNSW spokesperson refused to comment on why Pfizer was available to students in on-campus accommodation as well as AstraZeneca, stating only that “COVID-19 vaccinations are available through our UNSW Health Service to students, staff, and the wider community, and are being administered as per the government’s vaccination roll-out strategy,” and encouraging everyone to get vaccinated.

Residents of New College, an independently run student accommodation on UNSW’s campus, were formally notified of the ability to access Pfizer in a weekly notice published by New College Master, Professor Bill Peirson, on July 27th. However, a student from New College told Honi that college residents had been aware of the availability of Pfizer since 19 July due to an on-campus residence wide email. Residents were first made aware when a student rang to book AstraZeneca and was offered Pfizer by the UNSW Health Service instead. The UNSW Health Service website still does not advertise that on-campus residents are eligible for Pfizer.

In previous emails to the wider student body, UNSW stated that the Health Service was offering AstraZeneca vaccine appointments, with no mention of Pfizer:

“The UNSW Health Service is now offering vaccine appointments to anyone aged 18 years and older who wishes to receive the AstraZeneca vaccine. If you are aged 40 years or under, you will find information on the Australian Government website to help you weigh up the potential benefits against risk of harm from the AstraZeneca vaccine.”

On the 14th of July, UNSW Hall, a college run by the University, advised students to consider returning home if they had no requirement to be on campus. Emails obtained by Honi stated that due to the shared nature of college facilities, the residences were “high risk environments for the transmission of the Covid 19 virus.”  The Pfizer jab was not offered to students who decided to return home.

Honi understands that the UNSW Health Service receives 150 doses of Pfizer per week. As per state regulations, these are only supposed to be offered to medical students with placements, young people who are otherwise eligible (e.g carers or medical conditions) and staff members over the age of 55. 

NSW Health were unavailable for comment.

The University of Sydney Health Service is not offering Pfizer to college students, nor to its general student population at this point in time.

Editors’ Note: This article was updated on 4 August 2021 8:52pm to amend references to colleges to on-campus accommodation and to reflect the fact that on-campus residents living in close quarters are at risk of COVID.