The vote in favor of vaccination was unanimous.
“We know that the more students at the University of Connecticut who are vaccinated when we open in the fall, the safer those students will be and the safer everyone interacting with them will be,” Dr. Andrew Agwunobi, UConn president and CEO of UConn Health said. “…The single most important step that we can take towards ensuring a safe and successful opening in the fall is vaccinating as many students as possible.”
Students must receive a full course of the vaccine upon arrival in August. However, individuals who do not have access to prior vaccinations will have an opportunity to receive dosages from UConn’s Student Health and Wellness once arrived on campus and must follow a modified quarantine for safety measures.
Despite mandating vaccination, Agwunobi said the university wants to show compassion toward its students during the entire process.
The university is permitting students with medical or personal restrictions to submit exceptions to the office of student affairs if they cannot receive vaccinations. Appeals will be addressed on a case by case basis, and those who are approved will follow other safety measures such as surveillance testing, close contact quarantining, mask requirements, and housing restrictions.
“We want to make sure that the new students and the returning students get the education and experience that they deserve and that we are used to providing,” Agwunobi said. “We do not want to interrupt their education, we do not want to interrupt their experience.”
The university’s rationale behind adopting the new policy stemmed from guidance of other colleges following the same guidelines and preparations to safely and successfully open in the fall, as well as in consideration of potential surges in the fall and faculty member’s concerns of teaching in-person.
Employees on the main and the regional campuses are not required to receive any specific vaccinations as part of their employment, but the university strongly encourages them to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. Stephanie Reitz, a UConn spokesperson, said the requirement for staff is still being discussed by the university.
“Many students live, work and eat in congregant settings both on and off campus, and those are the settings most likely to facilitate spread of the virus, especially in residence and dining halls,” Reitz said. “Having a highly vaccinated student population will reduce those risks dramatically.”
Before mandating the policy, the university looked into the vaccination status of the community members at large.
As of June. 2, 60.7% of Storrs main campus residential students reported being partially or fully vaccinated, according to Reitz. In addition, 83.5% of 8,000 respondents in a 30,000 student survey pool unofficially reported that they are vaccinated, and 5.9% of participants expressed hesitation or said they would not be vaccinated.
“This board and the leadership of the university take the health and safety of our community, including our student population, very very seriously,” Board of Trustees Chair Dan Toscano said. “To that end, we felt that it was important to consider whether or not COVID-19 vaccinations should not just be recommended as they have been, but required in order to reduce the risk of transmission among students.”
The ultimate goal of the vaccination mandate is to ease into a pre-pandemic college lifestyle while focusing on the safety of students.
“The most important goal of the university leadership and everyone associated with the university is opening safely and successfully in the fall,” Agwunobi said. “As you know, we provide a world class education and an amazing student experience and to ensure that that occurs, everybody has to feel safe and be safe.”
Some returning students were excited about the news.
“I want to express my gratitude that next year I will be walking into a classroom of fully vaccinated and safe students, and I am very excited about that and to be able to return to some sense of familiarity together,” Ethan Werstler, an undergraduate student at UConn, said.
Some freshmen were also relieved about kicking off their college experience with some sense of normalcy.
Nina Reines, a freshman, said she feels safer attending a university that mandates the vaccine and that other incoming students will be able to adjust to college life easier because of the decision.
“I’m very thankful that I have the opportunity to start college in a relatively normal way,” Reines said. “…Even though I am in the middle of orientation and it’s online, I already feel so connected and at home with the university and can’t wait to see what types of activities they many have for us when we move in,”