A Department of Health and Human Services employee holds a COVID-19 vaccine record card. (E.J. Harsom | U.S. Dept. of Defense)
With just more than six weeks before the fall semester begins on UW campuses, the system’s administrators unveiled a program designed to give students an added incentive to get vaccinated against COVID-19.
Vaccinated students at universities that achieve at least a 70% vaccination rate by Oct. 15 will be eligible for a lottery to win one of 70 scholarships worth $7,000. UW-Madison is the only school not participating in the program.
“As we welcome students back to campus this fall, we want their experience to be as normal and safe as we can make it,” UW System president Tommy Thompson said in a statement. “That means students should get vaccinated, and we will incentivize it knowing that high vaccination rates are critical to our success. The ‘70 for 70’ campaign is key to helping our universities achieve higher vaccination rates, especially in the face of the looming threat the Delta variant poses.”
State health department data shows that just over 44% of Wisconsinites ages 18-24 are vaccinated. A survey of students set to live in UW-Madison dorms this fall found that 92% of them planned to be vaccinated by the start of the semester. Thompson told Wisconsin Public Radio he estimates about 50% of the student population is vaccinated, but that campuses aren’t tracking vaccinations, just doing surveys of students.
In the announcement of the program, administrators said that the state’s public universities will not be requiring vaccinations. Universities will also not be requiring students to wear masks or be regularly tested as they were last year, a decision that has drawn fire from faculty and staff — many of whom criticized Thompson, the former secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Some private universities in Wisconsin, including Marquette University, have already announced that they will be mandating vaccines. Other public university systems across the country have also announced vaccine requirements.
“Also the University of freaking Wisconsin should be throwing its scientific and medical expertise and authority behind the idea that compulsory vaccination against pandemic illnesses is good and necessary,” Nick Fleisher, president of the Wisconsin chapter of the American Association of University Professors, tweeted. “By refusing to do so, UW System is indulging the idea that covid vaccination is some combination of unnecessary and unsafe.”
The vaccine incentive program is expected to cost $500,000. Thompson told WPR the money will either come from federal COVID relief funds or the UW System administration budget.
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