As the omicron variant of the coronavirus contributes to rising infection rates across Ohio University’s campus, there are mixed reactions to the effectiveness of vaccine incentives.
As of Saturday, there is a cumulative result of 842 asymptomatic positive test results among on-campus students since the beginning of 2022.
In an attempt to slow the spread, Carly Leatherwood, a university spokesperson, said OU is encouraging all students, faculty and staff to get a booster shot and continues to update on-campus vaccine and booster clinic schedules. However, the university is “not currently offering an incentive program” for students to get boosted, she said.
In July 2021 and September 2021, the university implemented incentive programs to encourage students to obtain one of the COVID-19 vaccines: Pfizer, Moderna or Johnson & Johnson. Among the incentives was a personal one-hour photo shoot and a fall-themed block party for residence halls that achieved at least a 95% vaccination rate.
Despite the incentives, only nine resident halls currently have a 95% vaccination rate or higher, according to OU’s COVID-19 vaccination dashboard.
The university announced Aug. 31, 2021, it would be requiring all students, faculty and staff to get a coronavirus vaccine, though it has not yet mandated a booster shot.
Previously, Gillian Ice, special assistant to the president for public health operations, said there would have to be thorough evidence and agreement among members of the scientific community for the university to mandate the booster, according to a previous Post report.
Carole Merckle, the assistant director of community health programs and area health education center within OU’s Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine, or HCOM, said more OU students are self-pursuing the booster.
“A lot of (students) who were fully vaccinated wanted to be boosted before they went home and were around parents and grandparents and potentially family members who were higher risk for complications with COVID,” Merckle said. “The other factor that influenced students was the university mandate to be on campus.”
Merckle said vaccination clinics at HCOM are averaging more than 300 individuals per week seeking the vaccine or booster. However, it is primarily the booster shot that people are going to the clinics to receive.
Merckle also said she doesn’t think incentives implemented by the university in 2021 had a significant impact on students getting the original vaccine.
Recently, OU encouraged students, faculty and staff to upload records of being boosted. Doing so allowed those who are boosted to have a shortened quarantine period of only five days instead of the standard 10 to 14 days. Similarly, a boosted student who has been exposed to someone with coronavirus can avoid quarantining altogether.
Donovan Reed, a freshman studying biology, said he thinks there would be benefits to having booster incentives presented to residents.
“I do think that it would be in the university’s best interest to incentivize students to receive their booster as they did with the first round of vaccinations earlier in the school year,” Reed said in an email.
With the university providing free access to booster vaccinations, there is more opportunity for an increase in rates, he said. However, students who are opposed to the booster would probably not be as easily convinced even if similar incentives are available, he said.