College student vaccination rate: Is there cause for concern?

One thing is clear as students return to campus this fall – it won’t look like it did pre-pandemic, as some had hoped. Although in-person learning and events will take place, masks, social distancing, and online classes will continue to be the norm at least through the end of 2021.

Part of the reason for the uncertainty is due to COVID-19 variants, including Delta and Lambda, popping up across the globe. Plus, vaccination rates remain low among the college student population.

According to the CDC, only about 29 percent of adults between the ages of 18 and 24 have received at least one dose of the vaccine. This number marks the lowest rate of any age group.

In reviewing Wellfleet Rx program data through July 2021, at least 18.3% of members enrolled in Wellfleet Rx have received the COVID-19 vaccine. This is a 6.5% increase as compared to vaccination rates since April 2021. However, it is believed the vaccination rates are higher, as the percentage reported may not include vaccines administered at student health centers and other clinics that may not have billed Wellfleet directly.

Wellfleet Rx Student vaccination rate through July 31, 2021.

“Unfortunately we’re seeing a lower vaccination rate among those 18-24,” says Barrie Baker, Wellfleet’s Chief Medical Officer. “We need our student population to understand the importance of getting vaccinated. Not only for their long-term wellbeing, but for that of their peers, family and higher learning institution.”

Colleges requiring students and staff to be vaccinated

To help improve vaccination rates, schools across the country are mandating it for students to return to campus. According to the Chronical, more than 660 colleges and universities across the country are requiring students to be vaccinated before returning to campus in the fall of 2021. This push is also part of an effort to reduce transmission and keep campuses open and thriving for the 2021-2022 school year.

While this could be a positive move toward normalcy, there is a concern over the potential legal quagmire that could result from the mandates until the vaccine is officially licensed. The current vaccines were granted emergency use in December with full license still pending. Presently, in order for the FDA to license a vaccine, they need to collect and review at least two years of data to ensure its’ safety and efficacy.

A notable legal battle can be seen in an ongoing case where eight students sued Indiana University seeking to block its vaccine mandate. They alleged that it violated their constitutional rights and infringes on their medical privacy. The suit was dismissed in Federal court, with Judge Frank Easterbrook noting in his decision, “People who do not want to be vaccinated may go elsewhere.”

Although, the supreme court denied reviewing the case in Indiana, students and organizations are still testing school imposed vaccination mandates. Most, recently, a group of 14 students and a non-profit organization filed a lawsuit in federal court challenging Rutgers University’s mandate that students be vaccinated against COVID-19 before they can start school.

There is also a growing concern of students’ ability to provide fake vaccination cards to school officials in order to attend in-person learning.

According to the FTC, the cards were not designed to act as proof of vaccination status, so forgery safeguards that one would find in currency, licenses or passports were not included. This makes it easy for scammers to develop and sell fake vaccination cards, which have been found for sale on social media websites, e-commerce platforms, and blogs.

Behind the numbers

As we debate whether students get vaccinated, it’s important to recall how students were challenged during the pandemic. A recent report from the Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice at Temple University helps provide some staggering statistics on how the pandemic impacted the student population.

  • Three in five students experienced housing or food insecurity
  • More than half of students exhibited at least moderate anxiety
  • One in three students experienced moderate to severe depression
  • 80 percent reported difficulty concentrating on classes
  • 13 percent lost a loved one to COVID-19

Further, the report found that seven percent of students self-reported they had COVID-19 and estimated that 1.4 million college students may have been infected with the coronavirus since January 2020.

The reporting leveraged data from the Hope Center’s Fall 2020 survey, that included responses from more than 195,000 students, at 202 two- and four-year colleges across 42 states.

Students’ mental health

Several studies and data support the narrative of mental health struggles students faced amid the pandemic.

In addition to the increased use of telehealth services, Wellfleet’s clinical data shows in 2020 there was a consistent quarterly increase in the utilization of their CareConnect behavioral health line. CareConnect is a phone service that provides access to licensed behavioral health clinicians 24/7/365, via telephone and works in conjunction with student health centers. They’re continuing to see consistent utilization in 2021.

Wellfleet’s CareConnect behavioral health line usage prior to the pandemic through July 2021

“Much of the struggle students experience comes from worry about their academic performance, concern about their mental and physical health, and fear for the wellbeing of their friends and families,” said Baker. “Fortunately, we provide access to tools and resources for our student members to get the help they need any time of day,” Baker continued.

The data revealed that the top reasons for calls to the CareConnect behavioral health line in the second quarter of 2021 included:

  • 47% Personal Stress
  • 17% Physical Health/Wellness
  • 9% Depression
  • 9% Anxiety

Getting back to normal

In addition to the right care, student members need a sense of normalcy that can come from a safe, and stable on-campus learning environment.

One way to achieve that stability, is for institutions to commit to having a high percentage of their student, faculty and staff populations vaccinated. If not, they face the potential of having to make difficult closure and budget decisions, that could negatively impacting the mental, physical and financial wellbeing of their students and staff.

Further, colleges and universities need to continue to provide effective and frequent student communications. Including information on testing and vaccination options, how to self-report infection, campus engagement activities, and availability of behavioral health resources.

Learn more about Wellfleet’s current student vaccination rate and complete behavioral health solution.

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