The tough mandates that put colleges at the forefront of the nation’s newest culture war could help decide when the virus’ most recent resurgence wears off – and when the next arrives.
Schools risking conservative backlash see aggressive vaccine policies as a critical part of American efforts to stop the virus from advancing. The facilities are uniquely located to work with the least vaccinated groups: young people.
“The Delta variant changed the game and we need to respond accordingly,” said Anita Barkin, co-chair of the American College Health Association’s Covid-19 task force. She found that schools that require vaccination have a distinct advantage over schools that have to use incentives to vaccinate students.
The delta variant and low vaccination rates have fueled a spike in Covid-19 infections among young people in the summer, leading some college leaders to worry about needing another all-online semester. The incentives they gave students to line up for a syringe have helped increase vaccination rates at some institutions. But in many places they are not enough.
Teenagers and adults over the age of 20 have some of the lowest vaccination rates among eligible populations, making them likely a bigger factor in spreading the virus. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 60 percent of people ages 18 to 24 have received at least one dose of the vaccine, compared with about 95 percent of people between 65 and 74 years of age.
At Ohio State University, the current vaccination rate of over 70 percent was not enough to avoid a mandate. The school authorities are aiming for almost 90 percent.
“The need for the vaccine was right,” said Benjamin Johnson, a university spokesman. “This is not particularly new to us … We have prescribed a number of different vaccines for students for years.”
All Ohio state students, faculty, and staff must be fully vaccinated by November 15. Students who fail to comply and do not have an approved waiver will not be eligible for in-person courses or on-campus accommodation during the spring, and their email address and other electronic resources can be obtained from the university.
Some states – like Florida, Texas, and Arizona – have laws that prohibit vaccination regulations so that colleges have incentives as the only lever to influence vaccination rates.
With no mandate and about 60 percent of students on the main campus vaccinated, Stetson University in central Florida is using incentives to increase vaccination rates.
They offer the chance to win an annual fee, $ 1,000 cash, and dozens of other prizes. Once a certain percentage of students are vaccinated, school officials have promised to relax the rules for large gatherings. University leaders continue to put ideas together – now at 70 on a spreadsheet – in the hope that each one will encourage more students to get vaccinated.
“Someone said the other day: It’s like throwing spaghetti on the wall and seeing what sticks,” says Lynn Schönberg, Dean of Studies at Stetson University.
Although far fewer students are vaccinated than officials hoped, Stetson’s incentives have resulted in more people on campus reporting their vaccination status. In the two weeks after the incentives were announced in July, almost 200 percent more students and employees reported their vaccination status than in the two weeks before the incentives were announced.
“We thought the ROI was worth it,” said Schönberg.
The success of the vaccination incentives is also evident in other places. In Maryland, the state government invested $ 1 million in prizes – including $ 50,000 in grants – to vaccinate young people. Since the prices were announced in July, Maryland has seen a 15.5 percent increase in vaccinations for people ages 12 to 17, according to the Department of Health. New York, Oregon, Ohio, Delaware, Colorado, Missouri, Kentucky, West Virginia, Louisiana, and Washington have similar programs with varying degrees of success.
“We’re going one step at a time,” Maryland Secretary of Health Dennis Schrader said in an interview. “We’re trying to get people to where they are.”
Despite this success, the Maryland university system has mandated vaccines.
University of Maryland, College Park students who did not report their vaccination status prior to the start of the semester have their course registrations canceled.
“At every step we try to initiate something and we see results,” said Schrader.
Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear said at a news conference last week that the state giveaways – including millions of dollars and full grants – have been successful.
“We saw our vaccinations drop dramatically and the rate was steep – almost straightforward,” said Beshear. “When we announced Shot at a Million, it stabilized.”
The Delaware initiative, which provided a full scholarship to a public university in the state, was “very well received,” according to a health department statement, but there is not enough data to fully understand the impact on young people. The University of Delaware requires students to get the vaccine and threatens to lock the accounts of students who log in without an approved exception, such as B. a religious objection, do not adhere to it.
The vaccine incentives and mandates are helpful, Barkin said, but universities and states should focus on which incentives work best.
The students “feel invincible,” she said. “We know that students respond to peer pressure and peer pressure, and we know we can use empathy.”