STORRS, Conn. (AP) — As a new semester begins amid a resurgence of the coronavirus, 26 of the 50 largest public university campuses in the U.S. are not mandating that students be vaccinated, according to an analysis by The Associated Press.
There are many approaches to enforcement, even within universities that have mandated vaccines. Some offer leniency for students who decide not to comply and others require them to.
Administrators stress the importance of students getting vaccinated as a way to bring order back on campus and to keep education in classrooms, not online. Schools are turning to outreach and incentives to get more students vaccinated in places where mandates may be challenged by politicians.
These universities are many of the nation’s largest, and they account for approximately 55% of all students enrolled at the top 50 overall. According to the AP analysis which examined the largest colleges by 2019-2020 enrollment, these campuses offer on-campus housing and offer bachelor’s degrees.
California and the Northeast are home to most universities that have vaccine mandates. Nearly all those without mandates live in states that have restricted their ability to implement COVID-19 vaccination requirements, such as Arizona, Texas, Florida, and Texas.
Here is a look at approaches that three public universities are taking to get students vaccinated:
UNIVERSITY OF CONNECTICUT
Students are required to be vaccinated, but the school has been lenient with those opposed to getting the shots. It has granted exemptions to over 800 students without denying any one request.
The university’s interim president Dr. Andrew Agwunobi is a pediatrician. He stated that officials are currently working with students to understand their concerns about vaccines.
He stated that officials would be sensitive to misinformation and that they might need to educate students. It’s about working with students to understand their concerns, and trying to get them the correct vaccinations.
Campus set up clinics to provide shots for students who are not vaccinated. 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.
“I know people waiting to get the vaccine and I would advise them not to do that,” she stated.
Students at Storrs, where 25% were online last school 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. All students must wear masks indoors. Those who have not had their vaccines renewed will need to be tested every week.
Sahiti Bhyravavahala, a sophomore in Avon, Connecticut, said, “I was at a friend’s residence and I was just speaking to a bunch people and I was like, ‘I haven’t done this since a while, particularly with people my age.” She also took classes online her freshman year. “It does feel surreal, overwhelming, and yes. I am excited to get to know other people.
UConn officials claim that 10 COVID-19-related infections have been detected among students in the first semester.
UNIVERSITY OF CENTRAL FLORIDA
The Orlando campus is holding a raffle with prizes for vaccinated students, offering the shots at its student health center and rolling out a campaign urging students to get “Vacci-Knighted” — a play on the name of its sports teams, the Knights.
An executive order by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis has stopped the school and other Florida organizations mandating vaccines.
Joseph Harrington (a UCF Faculty Senate Chair and professor of Physics) said that many professors fear being vaccinated because they aren’t sure who it is. He is part of a group that petitions the governor to allow schools their own policies.
Harrington explained that some students have resorted to sitting in the aisles to avoid being seated next to others students in large classes. “They want to be socially separated, but they can’t because we don’t have the right to reduce capacity due to COVID. We must teach in fully densified classrooms.
Chad Binette, university spokesperson, stated that 72.6% had received at least one vaccine dose during the first week. The school uses incentives to increase that number, such as the raffle, where students who have been vaccinated can win textbooks, computers, and $500 in tuition and fee waivers.
According to the university, around 12,000 of its 72,000 students reside on campus. It recommends students use masks in the classroom.
In the two weeks ended Sept. 11, 377 students were infected with COVID-19.
UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA
Students who don’t comply with a school vaccine mandate or apply for a religious or medical exemption have been kicked out.
Dr. Christopher Holstege was the director of student wellness and health. He said that 193 students were not enrolled in the semester because they didn’t get the shots. The policy conforms to requirements that students are vaccinated for measles, mumps and other diseases.
Susan Davis, vice president of student affairs, stated that students who were not compliant with the requirements for vaccinations were contacted by the university and they sent texts and emails asking them to cooperate on getting shots or an exemption. According to Davis, all students who have not been enrolled in the university will be able to return in January or later if their mandate is followed.
Officials said that approximately 97% of the school’s 25,000 students have been vaccinated. 92% of the staff has also been vaccinated. Everyone on campus who has not been vaccinated must wear an indoor or outdoor mask and be subject to weekly COVID-19 testing.
This semester, there have been 255 cases of COVID-19 among students.
The school offers more classes in person than it did last semester, where only half of them were offered online.
Mallory Griffin, a senior said that most students are fine with the mandated vaccine.
Griffin said, “I think there’s a consensus among at least all the people I’ve spoken to and all my friends that we’re happy that everyone has vaccinated or is getting vaccinated because it just brings us one more step closer to maybe being able… to return to normal.”
DiPierro reported from San Diego. Skip Foreman, an Associated Press writer, contributed from Winston-Salem (North Carolina).