In a taped presentation given during the Wisconsin Counties Association’s Annual Legislative Exchange meeting March 3, University of Wisconsin Chancellor Rebecca Blank shared her hopes to vaccinate all students and staff by the end of the spring semester.
In her remarks, she claimed that in order for a “reasonably normal” semester to happen this coming fall, students arriving on campus would “need” to be vaccinated.
But this does not mean the vaccine will be required for students this upcoming fall. Several University of Wisconsin representatives have made it clear that vaccines will not be mandatory for students next semester.
The chancellor’s remarks pose some serious questions. Is it possible to make the vaccine available to everyone in this time frame? How are you going to get through to a notoriously defiant student population if you’re not going to require vaccines?
Given the current vaccine rollout, are the chancellor’s goals realistic? That depends on how you define a “reasonably normal” semester. While Blank didn’t specify what she meant by this, the university and county have started to roll back COVID-19 restrictions and planning for a new normal this fall.
Interim UW System President Tommy Thompson has set a goal for all UW schools to offer at least 75% of courses in person. Dane County recently loosened restrictions on gatherings and restaurant capacity. Furthermore, the university currently plans on having full capacity at Camp Randall for the upcoming football season.
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In an email sent out to students and staff March 17, the university released guidelines that allow students and staff who are fully vaccinated to forgo the usual biweekly testing procedures by keeping their Safer Badgers Badge green unless they receive a positive result.
Face-to-face instruction, bars full of friends and 80,000 people at Camp Randall sounds a lot like the UW we all know and love. Having said that, the semester that Blank and other administrators have in mind is entirely dependent on getting enough students and staff vaccinated.
As of March 17, nearly a quarter of Wisconsinites have received at least one dose of the vaccine. The U.S. as a whole is now vaccinating over 3 million people a day. President Joe Biden has previously said he expects the vaccine to be made available for every U.S. adult by May.
The university has already provided over 10,000 students and employees with their first dose. According to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, individuals 16 and older will become eligible for the vaccine starting May 1.
At this rate, it doesn’t seem too farfetched to believe the vaccine will be made available to every student and faculty member by September. The problem is going to be ensuring students get vaccinated when they aren’t required to.
Most students are willing to be vaccinated, but what about those who either aren’t willing to or simply aren’t motivated enough to actually do it when they’re not held accountable?
There are many reasons why a student may not initially take the vaccine. They may not be worried about contracting and transmitting the virus, not want to risk potential side effects or have misconceptions about the vaccine or virus itself. These are all likely given the amount of misinformation surrounding the pandemic.
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Before the university allocates a budget on things like vaccine awareness programs, they need to seriously consider who they’re dealing with. That is, students who won’t listen to university or CDC guidelines, regardless of any health benefits they can bring themselves and their community.
Students have already shown how they’re willing to put themselves and their community at risk, whether it’s for personal reasons or plain ignorance. How then, can the university make sure enough of these students are vaccinated if they are not going to make them mandatory?
You may think that protecting yourself and those around you from a deadly illness or getting out of pesky spit tests would be enough, but that would be placing a lot of faith in students who repeatedly violate community guidelines.
UW students will continue to gather by the masses regardless of if they’re vaccinated. If in the fall there aren’t enough students vaccinated for the semester to be somewhat normal, there’s one foolproof way to get through to some of the most resistant students.
Economist N. Gregory Mankiw — a favorite textbook author among UW Economics professors — is among those who advocate for paying recipients to take the vaccine.
This may seem like a costly solution, but every student that gets vaccinated prevents the university from a future headache that an unvaccinated student can bring, like their biweekly tests or placing them in isolation dorms.
This probably won’t convince all the vaccine skeptics, but it will at least take care of any social loafing among those who aren’t necessarily against the vaccine, but just don’t see a good enough reason to go through with it since “everyone else is.”
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At a very minimum, this would motivate any student to get vaccinated sooner and provide a small stimulus that would quickly go into the community.
A lot of people, even some of those who don’t plan on getting vaccinated, are concerned with achieving “herd immunity” — the idea that when 70% to 85% of a community is vaccinated, the infection rate among those not vaccinated will be low enough to return to a sense of normality.
Biden’s Chief Medical Advisor Anthony Fauci has called this number “elusive.” Instead of fixating on this number, he advises focusing on just getting as many people vaccinated as possible.
In order for this coming semester to work, the university should take Fauci’s advice and just focus on vaccinating as many students as possible. The majority of students shouldn’t be hard to convince.
Then again, it would be wrong to trust all students to do the right thing when they don’t have to. Students will continue to act like everything is normal, regardless of if they’re vaccinated.
The university will need to make sure enough students get vaccinated if we are to expect anything close to a normal semester. If vaccines are not required, it would be unrealistic to expect enough students to comply without creating a meaningful incentive.
Jack H. Hansen ([email protected]) is a sophomore studying business, philosophy and sustainability.