Administrators and faculty across the country see high vaccination rates as a key to normalcy returning to campuses, as a new semester begins amid a coronavirus resurgence. Schools are using incentives and outreach to get students vaccinated in areas where mandates face opposition from the political system.
The Associated Press has found that 26 of 50 nation's largest public universities do not require vaccination. This represents roughly 55% of all students enrolled in those schools. The Associated Press examined the top campuses that offer housing on campus and offer bachelor's degrees.
California and the Northeast are home to most universities with mandated vaccines. Nearly all universities without vaccine mandates are located in states that have limited the ability to comply with COVID-19 vaccine requirements. These include Arizona, Texas, and Florida.
We take a look at the approaches three universities use to get their students vaccinated.
UNIVERSITY of CONNECTICUT
Although students are required to get vaccinated, the school has been flexible with those who do not want to. It has granted more than 800 exemptions, without denial of any request.
Officials are working with students who have not followed the mandate to understand their concerns regarding vaccines, stated Dr. Andrew Agwunobi (an interim president at the university). He is a pediatrician.
He said, "We would be very aware of the fact there is misinformation out here, that we might have to educate the student." "It's all about working with the student to understand their concerns and trying to get them to a good place regarding vaccinations.
Students who have not been vaccinated were able to visit the campus clinics as soon as they arrived. Cindy Barreto, a graduate student, signed up. She said it was difficult to get an appointment back in Brazil where her brother was in intensive care.
She said, "I know people who are still waiting for the vaccine. I would not recommend that they do that."
Students at the Storrs school, where 25% of classes were offered online last year are looking forward to a better experience in the fall. The university, where approximately 11,000 undergraduates live on campus, expects to host 90% of its classes in person. Students must wear masks indoors and students who have not been vaccinated will be subject to weekly testing.
"I was at my friend’s residence hall and I was just speaking to a bunch people and I was like, ‘I haven’t done this in awhile, especially with people of my age,’" Sahiti Bhyravavahala, a sophomore, from Avon, Connecticut. She spent her freshman year online taking classes. It does feel surreal and overwhelming. However, I am also excited to meet people."
According to UConn officials, ten COVID-19-related infections have been reported among students since the beginning of the semester. Officials at UConn say that 97% students are currently vaccinated.
UNIVERSITY OF CENTRAL FLORIDA
The Orlando campus will hold a raffle for students who have been vaccinated. It will also offer the shots at its student healthcare center.
However, a Republican Governor's executive order. Ron DeSantis stops the school and all other Florida organizations from mandating vaccines.
Joseph Harrington, a UCF Faculty Senate chair and a professor of physics, stated that many professors are afraid because they don’t know who has been vaccinated. He is part of a group that petitions the governor to allow schools and colleges to establish their own policies.
Harrington stated that there are large classes of students who are afraid to sit next other students in the aisles. They want to be socially distant, but they cannot, as we are not permitted to reduce our capacity due to COVID. We must teach in fully-densified classrooms.
Chad Binette, a university spokesperson, said that 72.6% had received at least one dose of vaccines during the first week of classes. The school uses incentives to increase that number, such as the raffle where vaccinated students can win textbooks, computers, and tuition and fee waivers worth $5,000.
According to the university, around 12,000 of its 72,000 students are based on campus. Students are encouraged to wear masks indoors.
The university recorded 377 COVID-19-related infections in students during the week ending September 11.
UNIVERSITY IN VIRGINIA
Students who fail to comply with the school vaccine mandate, or request a religious or medical exemption are kicked out.
According to Dr. Christopher Holstege (director of student health and wellbeing), 193 students were not enrolled because they had not received the shots prior to the start of the semester. He stated that the policy is in line with other vaccine requirements, such as those for measles or mumps.
Susan Davis, vice-president for student affairs, stated that the university called students and sent them text messages and emails to remind them to cooperate on getting shots or exemptions. All those who are not enrolled will be welcome back in January, if they comply with the mandate.
Officials stated that 97% of school's 25,000 students are vaccinated and 92% of its staff. Everybody on campus must wear a mask indoors and outwardly and be subject to weekly COVID-19 testing.
The school has so far reported 255 COVID-19 students.
More than 90% of classes are offered in person as opposed to the last semester when only half were available online.
Mallory Griffin, a senior said that most students are fine with the mandate for vaccinations.
Griffin stated, "I think there is consensus amongst at least all those I have spoken to and all my friends that we are glad that everyone is vaccinated/getting vaccinated because it just brings us one step closer hopefully to being able to go back to normal."