BIDDEFORD, Maine — Students are returning to campuses as colleges reopen their doors. According to the American College Health Association guidelines, nearly four out of four U.S. colleges require that students be vaccinated against COVID-19.
Dr. Sarah Van Orman said that the American College Health Association believes that having a fully-vaccinated campus is the best and most effective way to protect our students, faculty, and staff.
She is the one who helped to create the COVID-19 protocols, which are used all over the country.
“I believe that for most people, it’s about balancing the return to normal. And how can we do that safely?” What mitigation systems should we have? Van Orman said.
At the University of New England, vaccine mandates are being implemented. Nearly 4,000 students live on the picturesque campus, as well as 1,100 staff members.
For the university’s president, James Herbert, it’s several thousand people he’s responsible for keeping safe from COVID-19.
“It’s been quite the roller coaster the past 18 months, a lot of ups and downs. But we’ve actually weathered the pandemic quite well overall,” said Herbert
He’s hoping the roller coaster ride, at least on campus, may be slowing down.
“Now, we’ve gotten to the point where we’re over 98% of our community is vaccinated and with just a handful of exemptions,” said Herbert.
It’s not just UNE. Nearly 94% of University of Maine student residents are vaccinated. Many other colleges in Maine also report near 100% vaccination rates.
This is significantly higher than the average rate of vaccination for 18-24-year-olds in the U.S., which is 43.5%.
Herbert believes vaccine requirements are driving forces. A total of 34 of Maine’s 37 universities require students to get the shot.
“The majority of the students responded very well. They understood why we needed to have the vaccine,” said Herbert.
This made it much easier for Julia Marcus, and Molly Cherny, medical school students to choose to attend school.
“I thought it was awesome that UNECOM or UNE, in general, was mandating vaccines just for the safety of all the students and all the faculty,” said Marcus
“I’m sure there was an exemption or two but for the most part, we never even questioned it in the past to have a hepatitis or a menegitis or measles, mumps and rubella vaccine, so it kind of was like I said, just another box for me to check off,” said Cherney.
Schools with mandates generally report high vaccination rates. However, this is not true for the more than 3,000 schools without a mandate. Many don’t publish their vaccination rates.
“When looking at the vaccination rates at an institution we need to know where it is located. Van Orman asked, “What are the overall vaccine rates within the community?”
The University of Alabama, which has no vaccine requirement, reports a vaccination rate of approximately 58%.
However, the University of Wisconsin, which voted against a mandate, has vaccinated a greater percentage of its students than any other university.
Van Orman said, “It’s a good illustration of what you can see when you have strong vaccine infrastructure and a community acceptance of the vaccine. It is a state that has a lot more work ahead of it.”
Herbert has had to deal with doubters at his campus. Herbert says that his team has shown compassion and have responded to doubters.
“What we tried to do is meet people where they were at rather than hit them over the head with a bunch of facts and figures to listen to what their concerns were and to try and meet them where they were at,” said Herbert. “This is, right now, one of the safest places on planet earth that you could be in is our campus when we have almost 99% of the community vaccinated.”