Why are Louisiana university students getting vaccinated? Incentives, care for others
Before freshman Ellie Puljak stepped foot on Louisiana Tech University's campus for her first class, her school and the rest of the University of Louisiana System had added the COVID-19 vaccine to the list of required immunizations.
If Puljak or any student in the UL System wanted to register for spring courses, they needed to get vaccinated, provide a doctor's note or submit written dissent.
Though registration begins in October, Puljak already qualifies. She got two doses of the Moderna vaccine as soon as she became eligible last spring, before the mandate was enacted.
"For me, I see vaccination as both a gesture that I can do to protect myself and also an action to ensure the safety of people around me, so that was really important to me, to take part as soon as I could," Puljak said.
Some students have shown resistance to mandates, like the three students who are suing the Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine Louisiana campus over mandated vaccines. Many college students across the state, however, have already gotten their vaccinations or are registered to get their vaccine as part of Louisiana's Shot for 100 program, which will award $100 to the first 75,000 college students who register for a COVID-19 vaccine. So far, Louisiana universities are seeing large successes with the incentive program.
Gov. John Bel Edwards and the Louisiana Department of Health announced the Shot for 100 program on Aug. 13. The 18-29 age group accounted for most state COVID-19 cases. It also was one of the two least-vaccinated age groups in Louisiana.
Since then, the number of students registered for the incentive program has more than doubled for some campuses. From Aug. 25 to Sept. 7, Grambling State University went from 66 registered students to 192. Northwestern State University jumped from 35 registrants to 314. The University of Louisiana Monroe now has 192 students registered, up from 40.
According to UL System Vice President for External Affairs Cami Geisman, the University of Louisiana Lafayette has awarded the most Shot for 100 incentives compared to other participating institutions. ULL increased its 525 registrations from Aug. 25 to 965 over the course of two weeks.
Other campuses have seen minimal growth. Over the past two weeks, the University of New Orleans increased by 18 student registrations, and McNeese State University remained stagnant with 72 students registered for the Shot for 100 program.
Grambling senior Amahjah Wallace, who got her shots late spring, said she wishes she could have participated in the Shot for 100 program. However, she is glad that the program is working to get more students vaccinated.
"It's a shame that there has to be incentives, but at least the students feel they're getting protected; they're getting vaccinated as well as rewarded," Wallace said. "Vaccination is the first reward, helping your body to fight it off, and then the second reward will be the incentive."
Louisiana universities are boasting even larger numbers of vaccinated students, faculty and staff. Louisiana Tech, which began the fall quarter on Sept. 8, reported about half of its students are vaccinated. ULM, which has been surveying the campus population every two weeks, has 451 faculty, 509 staff, 5,680 students self-reporting themselves as being vaccinated as of Aug. 27. Vaccinated students now account for two-thirds of the entire student population.
Miss University of Louisiana Monroe Allison Newton said she finished her vaccination process by the end of June, around the same time that her great-grandmother got vaccinated.
"Not only is it physically protective, it's also become symbolic; it's become like a symbol of caring for other people and doing your part as a society member," Newton said. "(Getting vaccinated) was not only for me, but it was symbolic for my grandmother. I was like, 'I have to do this because I want to protect my family and everyone that I love.'"
Some vaccinated students continue to hold apprehensions surrounding the vaccine. Adrian Consonery Jr., a mass communications senior at Grambling, said he got the Pfizer vaccine in early summer to help protect his parents. He knew it wouldn't prevent him from contracting COVID-19, but it would help his body fight off the virus. All his life, he had managed to get the flu after getting the flu vaccine, and he knew his body was better prepared to fight the flu because of it.
Still, he has worries about why the government would pay for people to get the vaccine when they are in the process of making it mandatory. Consonery also is concerned about the fact that there are three versions of the vaccine that all came about quickly. He said the lack of clarity from media outlets, the government and public health officials has created added worry.
Consonery said despite these apprehensions, he got the vaccine because the benefits outweighed the costs.
"I don't know what I could be bringing home," Consonery said. "And I don't know how I would feel knowing that I was the one that infected my parents. It was really about trying to figure out am I going to only think about myself in this scenario, or am I going to think about those around me?"
Additionally, Consonery said the vaccine mandate from Grambling isn't any different from the vaccines he was required to get to begin attending the university four years ago.
"If you're going to take classes and be a part of this family, a part of your application is getting your vaccinations," Consonery said. "Although this shot does have a lot that goes with it, and we're still learning more about this disease as well as the vaccine itself, it's still something that should be given and taken into account that this is something we need to do as a unit."
The UL System COVID-19 vaccine requirement and mandates from other institutions follows the Food and Drug Administration's approval of Pfizer and BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine last month. Since then, there have been more vaccine mandates, with the most recent being President Joe Biden calling on businesses with 100 employees or more to mandate vaccines or have employees undergo weekly COVID-19 tests.
Uchechi Owunna, a senior at ULM, said she got vaccinated in the spring to avoid having to get a COVID test before flying back to the United States from her home in Nigeria. Despite getting her shots, she still felt skeptical about mandates at the time because vaccines were not FDA approved.
Following the FDA approval of the Pfizer shot, she said she changed her mind and believes that mandates will help maintain the effectiveness of the vaccines.
"Now it makes more sense because it's FDA approved," Owunna said. "I think there's more pros than cons at this point, and I don't know what other proof people need more than the vaccine is already approved by the FDA. Like, it's good. Get the vaccine."
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