NEIU’s SHS Offers Mostly Free OTC Health Supplies in Vending Machines

Photo of vending machine shelf  pulled out to show it stocked with boxes of Plan B
Photo of vending machine shelf pulled out to show it stocked with boxes of Plan B
Ananth Prabhu

As NEIU students and faculty traverse the sixth floor of the Nest or visit the Student Union adjacent to the former bookstore, they might notice a vending machine that does not serve the conventional snacks.

Rather than offering snacks, the vending machines offer free essential contraceptives, including condoms and morning-after pills, as well as life-saving doses of Narcan in the event of a potential opioid overdose. With one notable exception with the morning-after pill, Plan B, which was reprogrammed to have a $5 fee for the generic brand in late January. 

The vending machine next to the blood pressure monitor in the student Union (Ananth Prabhu)

In an interview with the Independent, Aidon Perera, Health Education Coordinator from Student Health Services (SHS), shared NEIU’s vision of expanding the vending machine offerings in the future, “We’re hoping to eventually start putting in COVID-19 tests in there given the season and the trends that usually occur.”

Although the task of restocking the vending machines falls on Perera every Friday, challenges arise, particularly with the broken elevator buttons at the Nest.

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“We spent a lot of time just trying to get up to that floor,” Perera said. “We had to enlist some residents to help us get there.”

NEIU has taken the necessary steps to ensure the confidentiality of students who need access to the products inside the vending machines.

Two people filling the vending machine (Ananth Prabhu)

“We’re not tracking who’s getting what. The only thing we’re tracking is how much we’re putting out,” Perera said. “We’ve moved away [the Nest’s] furniture and taken steps to make it extra confidential for people to go back there and do what they need to do.”

Noting popular trends, Perera pointed out, “Condoms go out very quickly at both locations. The Nest is usually emptier faster. So we try to stock more [products] in that one.”

Perera said the items in the vending machines come at no cost to students, “I think that’s why they’re going so quickly. We’re trying to eliminate those barriers for students.”

A SHS staff member requested the operator of the leased vending machines to adjust an item price due to an exhaustion of a prior donation of emergency contraception (EC). The Independent reached out to Dr. Jennifer Lasko, Interim Director of SHS, for further comment about the change in pricing.

Dr. Lasko said, ”The university is required to have a wellness kiosk that dispenses EC at a lower cost than retail value, the recommendation was for $5-$10. NEIU chose $5, so that it can be cost-effective for students.” The morning-after pill (levonorgestrel) began to have a $5 fee attached to it starting Jan. 19, 2024.

NEIU is one of the few universities in Chicago that have these vending machines, “We were the only free [vending machines] for our students.” Perera said. “I’m very proud of our office for pulling this off.”

Perera emphasized the importance of the vending machines, “With the current political climate and laws being overturned, we want to ensure that our students don’t have to stress out about things that are completely preventable.”

Vending machine stocked with Plan B, Maxi Pads, and condoms
Photo by Ananth Prabhu

Without these vending machines, the alternative would be for students to make an appointment with an on-campus nurse or travel to the nearest off-campus pharmacy, which may be a hindrance to accessing the over-the-counter products.

For the convenience of NEIU’s community, these vending machines are located on the sixth floor of the Nest and in the Student Union adjacent to the former bookstore.

Side profile of vending machine (Ananth Prabhu)

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