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ISU Signs Onto COVID-19 College Vaccine Challenge

ISU testing site near Alamo II
Ryan Denham
A COVID-19 testing site located behind Alamo II near Watterson Towers at ISU.

Illinois State University is part of a national push to get as many students, faculty, and staff as possible vaccinated against COVID-19 before the start of fall semester.

ISU has signed onto the White House's COVID-19 College Vaccine Challenge that supports President Joe Biden's goal of raising the COVID vaccination rate to 70% of adult Americans with at least one shot by the Fourth of July. That rate is currently about 53%, while just over 44% of the U.S. population is fully vaccinated.

Participating colleges and universities commit to taking three action steps: making sure every campus community member knows they're eligible for a vaccine and has the resources to find one; identifying champions for vaccine efforts across campus and implementing a plan to get as many campus community members vaccinated as possible; and bringing vaccines on-site to make it more easier to receive the shots.

ISU spokesperson Eric Jome said the university already has been doing these things. He said the challenge is just another step in harmonizing outreach efforts among colleges, public health officials, state agencies, and other groups.

"That kind of coordinated effort, I think, is a real big part of this—not only with just the the infrastructure and the logistics of vaccination. We've had a lot of emphasis put on communicating the need to be vaccinated, the importance of that throughout a lot of different channels—internally and externally. (We're) really trying to help get the word out about not only the clinics on campus, but also a lot of the resources that are available in the community and statewide," Jome said.

He said colleges and universities have an advantage other agencies do not: strong connections between and buy-in from campus community members.

"Emphasizing the benefits to the individual, but also emphasizing the benefits to the community by being vaccinated—you're helping yourself, you're helping those around you," Jome said. "Especially if you have peers, staff members, faculty members that can kind of help—in an official way or an unofficial way—to help to spread that message, it really does make a difference."

While a significant portion of older adults have received a COVID vaccine, younger Americans lag behind. The latest McLean County data show only about 20% of college-aged people are fully vaccinated against COVID.

Jome said ISU is working with public health officials to identify and address some of the reasons for the slow vaccination rate.

"When when we're young, we kind of tend to think we're not quite as vulnerable to things. Helping to try to overcome that aspect, continuing to communicate is really a big part of that," said Jome, adding that there was a slowdown in student interest after a brief pause on the use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

Still, he said, the university saw decent interest from students in being able to get a shot on campus during the semester. ISU's vaccine clinics will continue through the summer months, even with fewer students in the Twin Cities.

The next clinic will be held from 8:30 to 11:30 a.m. on Thursday, June 17 in the Legends Room on the lower level of Redbird Arena. Students, faculty and staff must present a Redbird ID upon arrival. Registration is available at this link.

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Dana Vollmer is a reporter with WGLT. Dana previously covered the state Capitol for NPR Illinois and Peoria for WCBU.
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