With less than a month left to get vaccinated before Ohio University’s Nov. 15 COVID-19 vaccination deadline, 80% of Athens campus students and faculty have gotten their shot.
Across regional campuses, vaccination rates remain significantly lower, averaging under 40%. OU’s Eastern campus currently has the lowest vaccination rate, with 35.1% of students and employees vaccinated.
Among residence halls on the Athens campus, vaccination rates are all above 60% vaccinated, with the majority above 80%. The number of on-campus students vaccinated is currently about 5% higher than vaccinated off-campus students.
“Alongside these increasing vaccination rates, we continue to see a decrease in positivity rates on the Athens campus,” Gillian Ice, special assistant to the president for public health operations, said in a public health update email. “The drop in the student asymptomatic testing positivity rate (which is currently below 1 percent) is remarkable. It is lower than our employee positivity rate (currently 2.5 percent).”
To incentivize students further, the university is continuing to offer prizes for students and faculty who received a COVID-19 vaccine after Aug. 31. Faculty who get vaccinated will receive $100, and a drawing is held each week through the end of October to award 100 students each week $100 in Bobcat Cash.
Sororities and fraternities may also receive a donation of $500 to the charity of their choice if it achieves 90% vaccination among members. Residence halls that achieve 95% vaccination will be invited to a fall-themed block party.
Eitan Palmer, a sophomore studying geography, said he has not heard much advertised about all of the prizes OU offers for vaccination and thinks simply requiring the vaccine is the best way to get students vaccinated.
Juliet Mapeosky, a freshman studying biology pre-med, said she knew about the prizes and feels that people are aware of them, but has not heard of anyone who entered any drawings.
OU does offer a vaccine exemption for “medical reasons or for reasons of conscience, including ethical and moral belief or sincerely held religious beliefs,” according to OU’s website. Requests are reviewed and either approved or denied by a board composed of representatives from Human Resources, Diversity and Inclusion, Student Affairs and a faculty representative.
As of Oct. 6, the university has received 377 applications for student vaccine exemptions, with 339 approved, two denied and 36 under review or in need of more information, according to a previous Post report. The university received 57 faculty exemption requests, with one denied and five under review, as of the same date. In an overwhelming majority, 408 requests cited reasons of conscience, while 26 requests were for medical reasons.
Mapeosky encourages those who are still unsure about vaccination to get their shot.
“I definitely understand the hesitation,” Mapeosky said. “It's very new, but a lot of people have gotten it and we're all doing okay.”
To meet the Nov. 15 deadline, an individual must have already gotten their first dose of the Moderna vaccine, or can get their first dose of the Pfizer vaccine by Oct. 22. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine can be received at any time before the date due to its one-dose nature, however, the university recommends receiving it by Nov. 12 to allow time for documentation.
Palmer hopes that the requirement will get enough people vaccinated to return to a normal Spring Semester.
“I hope that we're able to get herd immunity to kick in on-campus and in the surrounding Athens area,” Palmer said. “Hopefully next year will look like kind of ‘normal’ … and we'll be able to return to kind of some of the activities that I was looking forward to as a senior in high school, before everything happened.”
Ice said it is too early to make any predictions about next semester, but indicated the university anticipates a moderate COVID-19 case level over the winter, with the understanding that it is difficult to accurately predict.
“I think we'll probably start out the semester more cautious, and then hopefully be able to draw up some of the precautions based on case rates, and certainly the vaccination rates,” Ice said. “We're not going to get, obviously, to 100% vaccination rates. But if we got to 90% or 95%, we'd be in a really good position to keep the cases low and be able to have a little bit more freedom, for sure.”