Eduvation Blog

Moving the Needle on Vaccines

Good afternoon, and TGIF! (Also it’s Amnesty International Day today.)

I left the door open yesterday to skip today’s issue entirely, but then along came some breaking news I couldn’t ignore (so I just took the opportunity to sleep in a bit).

After months tracking the mounting number of US colleges requiring vaccinations of their students to permit a full return to campus, I had just about given up hope that CdnPSE would ever follow suit… but now I’m pleased to report the first announcement, here in my hometown of London Ontario. I feel better already about our chances for the Fall in this town…



US Vaccine Mandates

In the US, where vaccinations have become a political hot potato, nonetheless hundreds of colleges and universities are demanding that students be fully immunized before they can return to campus this Fall. (Check out the new Insider Recap of Vaccination Policies, mandatory and otherwise, announced since March.) Since my last summary on May 12 (“Vaccination Persuasion vs Potted Plants”), here’s what’s new…


422 US Institutions so far

The Chronicle now lists 422 US colleges making COVID19 vaccination mandatory for on-campus students this Fall, with some religious or medical exemptions. New additions include uVirginia, who will require students on campus to produce proof of vaccination by Jul 1, and will require unvaccinated staff to undertake regular COVID19 testing. Yale and Brown U extended their vax mandates to include faculty and staff too, as have about a third of the others. Indiana U says it will cancel class registrations for students and fire staff members who don’t comply with its vax mandate at all 7 campuses across the state.


“Requiring the COVID19 vaccine among our students, faculty and staff continues to extend the university’s comprehensive and thoughtful approach to managing and mitigating the pandemic on our campuses and brings us one step closer to making a ‘return to normal’ a reality.”Michael McRobbie, President, Indiana U



Political Polarization

Although many US colleges already require immunizations for measles, mumps, rubella or the flu, the COVID19 vaccine has become politically polarizing (even while Republican former president Donald Trump often takes credit for speeding its development). Almost all the private and public colleges in the US with COVID19 vax mandates are in states that elected Joe Biden in the 2020 election, with just 34 located in “red” states (such as Indiana U). So far, 19 state legislatures have passed a variety of polarizing laws to attempt to sway campus decisions: in Texas, private colleges can require vaccinations but public ones can’t; in New York, private colleges can allow for religious exemptions but public ones can’t. (In all, 12 states have forbidden a vax mandate at public institutions, and 7 have insisted on it. Across the country, 75% of schools with vax mandates allow for religious exemptions.) College presidents are balancing safety, politics, and peer pressure with economic self-interest: no-one yet knows how many students will be attracted by the prospect of a return to normal campus life, compared to those antivaxxers who may be repelled. “People are waiting for a tipping point,” says one president, waiting for safety in numbers as more announcements are made.  New York Times  |  NBC News


Splitting Legal Hairs

In a ruling that only a lawyer could love, Indiana’s Attorney General has now ruled that Indiana U cannot require proof of vaccination (due to a new state law banning the requirement of an “immunization passport”), but IU can require vaccinations of students and employees. The new law “only prohibits public universities from requiring proof of the COVID-19 vaccine; it does not prohibit them from requiring the vaccination itself.” IU took the win: “In yesterday’s opinion, the attorney general affirmed that it is legal for us to require a vaccine, including one under an Emergency Use Authorization.” Inside Higher Ed


Legal Gray Area

As far as US vaccine mandates are concerned, courts have not yet weighed in – although 100-year-old precedent exists for smallpox vaccinations. All 50 states have some K-12 vaccination requirements for public schools (with some medical or religious exemptions), and some colleges have successfully defended mandatory flu vaccines. The biggest difference with COVID19 vaccines is that they are still only provisionally authorized for emergency use by the FDA – although that is expected to change by mid-summer. The other challenge will be determining how to confirm vaccination status within the bounds of privacy legislation. Inside Higher Ed



CdnPSE Mandates

Since March, CdnPSE leaders have largely dismissed a vaccine mandate as a legal impossibility, while encouraging the entire community to get vaccinated (see the Insider Recap of Vaccination Policies). Yesterday, that appeared to change, in what could be the first domino falling…



Vax Mandate at Western U

As long-time Insider readers will know, Western U was one of CdnPSE’s hardest-hit campuses during the pandemic, with at least 377 reported cases and outbreaks in virtually every undergraduate dormitory. Yesterday, Western became the first university in the country to mandate COVID19 vaccinations for students in residence this Fall, when it anticipates a “full return to in-person classes.” Western and its affiliates (Brescia, Huron, and King’s UC) “will require students living in residence to have received at least a first dose of the COVID19 vaccine, assuming Ontario’s supply allows.” Those who can’t get vaccinated prior to arrival will have 14 days following move-in to get vaccinated at campus clinics. The decision was strongly encouraged by the local health unit. President Alan Shepard believes Western “won’t be the last” university in Canada to introduce a vaccine requirement.  Western News  |  London Free Press



Potential Challenges?

Western’s announcement specifically mentioned that medical or human rights accommodations will be possible, although a lawyer with the Canadian Civil Liberties Association expressed concern that it might require the disclosure of private health information. uWaterloo says “all the information we have right now suggests that we will not be able to require people to be vaccinated to come to campus.” So far, the UWO Student Council reports largely “positive responses” from students.  Globe & Mail


“The Middlesex-London Health Unit strongly supports all efforts to increase the uptake of COVID-19 vaccination, particularly in congregate living settings such as postsecondary residences.”Chris Mackie, MOH, MLHU


“We’re seeing very strong vaccine uptake amongst university-age students, so I think this will actually bring a sense of comfort and safety to those who want to come to Western and live in residence.”Alan Shepard, President, Western U



Waiting on the PHOs

Most Canadian universities are still planning for a variety of scenarios this Fall (more on that next week), and say they will follow local PHO guidelines about vaccination. uSaskatchewan faculty and staff unions have called on the administration to make COVID19 vaccinations mandatory on campus, but the university says it is not planning to do so. uRegina has announced it will not make vaccines mandatory, while McGill says it doesn’t “currently anticipate” requiring proof of vaccination. uToronto and other Ontario universities are still considering the best approach.  University Affairs




Student Opinion

So, how do students feel about vaccine mandates? Predictably, Americans are divided along partisan lines, but other data points suggest about two-thirds of our students are likely pro-vax…


67% in Favour for CdnPSE

An Ipsos survey of 1,001 Canadians (May 12-14) found that 72% support vaccine passports for air travel, and 67% for concerts, theatres, or attending PSE. (Even a majority of those not yet vaccinated still supported the idea.) Canada is outlining strict guidelines for vaccine passports, recognizing that they represent “an encroachment on civil liberties.” The EU and UK are charging ahead with digital solutions, while Israel has a “green pass” system. Among younger Canadians (age 18-34) the survey found somewhat higher opposition to vaccine passports for outdoor concerts (44%).  Global


Youth Hesitancy

A uManitoba study of 664 young Manitobans (age 16-21) found likewise that 65.5% were willing to get a COVID19 vaccine, 26.1% were unsure, and 8.5% were opposed. Researchers explored the underlying causes and distribution of vaccine hesitancy, which was greater among those from lower household incomes and parental education, with a history of household substance abuse or spanking. They recommend messaging that emphasizes vaccine safety and effectiveness, while explaining the importance of protecting against COVID19.  The Conversation


International Students

A new QS survey of 105,000 international students found that 68% would receive the COVID19 vaccine if offered, and just 7% would not (although 40% of those respondents would accept it if required by their university). New Zealand is overwhelmingly perceived to have handled the pandemic best (selected by 33% of respondents), followed by Germany (10%) and China (8%).  QS



Vax Persuasion

CdnPSE leaders and health experts have been outspoken in their support of COVID19 vaccination, active in provincial policy debates, and many campuses have provided space for public immunization clinics or testing. But in recent weeks a number of interesting efforts have arisen to persuade the hesitant…


Catchy Campaigns

The government of Alberta has launched a new social media and outdoor ad campaign to tell Albertans that “your vaccine is your ticket back to normal life.” The communications strategy has shifted from appeals to altruism (like protecting the vulnerable) to blatant self-interest. Ads will feature youth soccer games, families socializing, all without masks or social distancing – framed inside a hypodermic needle.  CTV News


Appeal to Libido

The appeal to selfishness can go even lower. The Biden Administration has partnered with dating apps Tinder, Hinge, Bumble, Badoo, OkCupid, Chispa, BLK, Match and Plenty of Fish to encourage the “horny but vaccine-hesitant” to get their shot. Vaccinated users (who self-identify) will get access to premium features or “boosts” for free, badges for their profiles, and filters so they only see other vaccinated matches. “People who display their vaccination status are 14% more likely to get a match,” explains the White House. “The vaccine will get you laid,” translates Gizmodo.   Buzzfeed  |  Gizmodo


Subtle Nudges

uPennsylvania researchers tested 19 styles of text messages on 47,000 people to encourage them to get a flu shot in 2020, and found that professional tone beat out casual. In particular, messages that reported “a flu vaccine is available for you” 72 hours prior to a doctor’s appointment, and “a flu vaccine has been reserved for your appointment” 24 hours prior, boosted vaccinations from 42% to 46.6%. A similar study of 700,000 Walmart pharmacy customers found that texts indicating a vaccine was “waiting for them” was more effective than any other. In marketing terms, the messages are leveraging psychological loss aversion, and an opt-out default.  Washington Post


Promising Extracurriculars

West Virginia U is trying to incentivize students and staff to get the shot by promising a return to normalcy: if the campus hits 50% vaccinated, concerts, plays and the rec centre will reopen at 50% capacity. At 60%, outdoor intramural sports will resume and residence halls will be open to student visitors. At 75%, many programs will run at full capacity and homecoming will be in person. So far, just 12% of employees and 6% of students have confirmed their vaccination status.  Chronicle of Higher Ed


Vaccine Lotteries

You may recall from my last summary that Alberta’s uLethbridge launched a free tuition draw for students vaccinated by Sep 9 (see “Worth a Shot”). The approach was quickly emulated by Manitoba’s Assiniboine Community College, where students who show proof of vaccination have a chance to win a full year’s tuition in the “Armed for Fall” contest. In the US, state lottery incentives started with Ohio’s “Vax-a-Million” lottery, with weekly $1M prizes but also 5 full-ride 4-year scholarships. California has launched a $116.5M lottery for 40 lucky winners, and $50 gift cards for the first 2M others, who get vaccinated. New York state is raffling off 50 full-ride scholarships to university for 12-17-year olds, which cover tuition, room and board, books and transportation – roughly a $24,000 value. And Oregon’s “Take Your Shot” contest is raffling off 5 college scholarships worth $100,000 each!




Well, THAT turned out to be pretty much a full-length issue, when I merely planned to share one news story. As always, thanks for reading!

I hope you get some sunshine and spring weather this weekend. Stay safe and be well!


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