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As vaccine eligibility expands to 16 and up, officials hope college students will get the shot

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Tuesday is the first day that New Yorkers 16 years and older can get the COVID-19 vaccine, which means college students, among others, are now eligible to be vaccinated.

This comes as the majority of COVID-19 cases in central New York are now in younger adults and local colleges are coordinating how to proceed with their reopening plans for the fall semester.

At SUNY Oswego, officials said they need to see how things pan out first.

“Our plans are completely dictated by the health of the community,” said Pamela Caraccioli, deputy to the president, adding that the biggest variable is how many of her students can get vaccinated. “If we can get shots and arms, if we can get folks vaccinated, it's gonna dictate the health of our community quite a bit.”

Currently, about half of SUNY Oswego’s students are either living on campus or commuting for in-person classes.

At Jefferson Community College in Watertown, President Ty Stone said about 90% of their classes are still remote, but she hopes that will change in the fall as well.

“The plan right now is that we do bring students back in the fall,” said Stone. Jefferson Community College and SUNY Oswego are both waiting for final direction from the State University of New York administration before officially announcing their plans.

Both campuses are already vaccine Points-of-Distribution open to their communities. Last week, SUNY Oswego held its first clinic in its athletic complex. Now, Caraccioli said they’re creating another clinic on campus just for students and faculty to get vaccinated. They’re slated to have 2,500 available doses for that closed clinic this week.

At Jefferson Community College, they’ve had a vaccine clinic set up for a while in their gym through a partnership with the county and community healthcare providers. Since the vaccines are provided by the community, rather than being allocated by the state or county, Stone said they’re not hers to give away.

“We cannot allocate them to other people because they're not allocated to us,” she said.

While both colleges have vaccines available, neither plans to require their students to get vaccinated to return to campus, but Caraccioli said it is the only way to give her students an opportunity to have a “normal” college experience.

“We want to get past this and the only way to get past this is to get folks, you know, vaccinated,” she said.

Neither campus has had a major outbreak of COVID-19 and Stone really commends the younger adult population for their restraint.

“They've adapted and they've done it and I know that it's not what they wanted to do but they still did it,” she said. “And you know, they've done it well. So that says a lot for young people.”

In Syracuse, Onondaga County Executive Ryan McMahon said this week the county is supplying Syracuse University with 1.500 doses to vaccinate its students since the school did not get any shots allocated by the state despite being approved to be a point of distribution.

This comes as the university has seen several outbreaks of cases on its campus as the result of large gatherings among its students. Syracuse University administrators did not comment in time for publication, but McMahon has been very vocal about his desire to vaccinate college students, especially in response to these large gatherings.

“Let me vaccinate the kids that probably be the best way to handle this situation. Don't you think,” he said at a recent briefing.

McMahon said on Monday that he’s also been in touch with LeMoyne College, Onondaga Community College, and SUNY ESF about coordinating vaccine distribution on their campuses.

To sign up for a COVID-19 vaccine at one of the state-run vaccination sites, click here.