More than 80% of college students have gotten at least two doses of COVID-19 vaccines, including a portion who only received them because their institutions mandated them, according to a new report from the American College Health Association.
That same percentage–from a random national sample of 948 students surveyed in early September–also said they felt safer because their colleges had installed requirements. Still, in some parts the country, especially the South, uptake and mandates have not been as robust. There remain steep challenges that colleges must overcome to deliver critical information and avoid confusion when encouraging vaccines to campus populations. They likely will not reach the unreachable but can still try.
“Among the one in seven college students who are unvaccinated, few are likely to get a vaccine, with majorities unconvinced of the vaccines’ safety or effectiveness,” the ACHA’s COVID-19 Task Force noted in the report. “About six in 10 of those who are fully vaccinated but have not received a booster dose say they’re unlikely to get one, with perceived lack of necessity topping the list of reasons.”
However, ACHA points out that 53% of students believe colleges are not providing enough COVID-related information to them, especially on vaccines. That is notable given the timing of the survey as the fall semester opened and many institutions had lowered their levels of concern, removed dashboards, said they were not requiring boosters and lessened some safety protocols. Perhaps it was too soon? Around 45% of students said they’re still worried about getting COVID, and that includes nearly one-fifth who are unvaccinated.
While case counts continue to fall, test positivity remains high in many states, and there has been at least one major outbreak on a U.S. campus at the University of Illinois. From the survey, around 55% of students believe they have already gotten COVID, although only 40% said they actually tested positive. That doesn’t mean they can’t get COVID again, but could be protected further against current strains circulating in the United States. That includes the omicron BA.5 subvariant, which is still dominant.
At the moment, at least 43% of students are mandated to be vaccinated this fall. One third said they were not required, while around 20% didn’t know. The majority of college and university mandates land in the Northeast, where 75% of students need vaccines to be enrolled. It is much lower in other parts – West (50%), Midwest (36%) and South (24%).
Without requirements, how are students getting their information on COVID and whom do they trust? News organizations top the list at 68%, followed by health care providers at 66% and family at 62%. But college leaders, both in administration and in health care centers, can play a significant role in continuing strong messaging around the safety and efficacy of vaccines and debunking some myths.
For example, 71% say they are not convinced COVID vaccines are safe, even though 99% of those surveyed (and the vast majority across the world who have gotten them) have not had severe reactions. Nearly half of those in the unvaccinated pool said they don’t think they are effective, and around 40% said they don’t think they need them, given the good outcomes so far among college-age students. Another one-third said they’ve already gotten COVID, so they don’t need them.
“Campus leadership should clearly and consistently convey the safety of the COVID-19 vaccines and the importance of vaccination to the health and wellbeing of the campus and community, to students and their families,” ACHA leaders noted in the report while acknowledging the role campus health centers can play. “Students who use college health center services rate them positively on giving clear health information, reinforcing the importance of including college health professionals in developing and delivering COVID-19 messaging.”