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As more colleges require COVID-19 vaccinations, one is finding success without mandate

Posted at 2:32 PM, Oct 11, 2021

MADISON, Wisc. — Getting vaccinated on campus at the University of Wisconsin in Madison is relatively normal.

“I think is in the best interest of everyone, not just here on campus but in the larger Dane County community for students to be vaccinated," said Sam Kuchta, a senior at the university.

Students are not required to be vaccinated on campus, which could have been an issue for Kuchta.

“This past summer, summer of 2020, I underwent chemotherapy for Hodgkins-Lymphoma,” he said.

Kuchta cancer is in remission and his doctors say he’s not any more immuno-compromised than other people. Still, he wouldn’t necessarily have been comfortable on campus if people had held out on vaccinations.

“After treatment, there are some parts of my body that are a little bit more susceptible to disease. Things like my lungs especially took a big hit so that’s definitely something to remain cautious about,” said Kuchta.

Nearly all of his classmates are vaccinated despite the university not having a mandate.

“Right now, 94% of our employees are fully vaccinated and 93% of our students are fully vaccinated,” said Jake Baggot, director of Health Services on campus. His department is partially responsible for the high numbers.

“We use a variety of ways to communicate this. Some of it was direct messaging and emails and messages. We spent a lot of time in town halls and other forums where we could talk to folks in a sort of, as best you could an inner-personal way,” said Baggot.

Baggot says the school requires unvaccinated students to take a weekly COVID test, which may nudge some people to get the shot.

But, overall, he believes the key to a successful vaccination effort is communication.

“When you meet somebody who hasn’t been vaccinated and if you have, helping them understand why you did, what difference that made in your life, and try to help them understand why they might want to make that same decision,” said Baggot.

Many students were surprised when the school decided against a mandate.

“At first, I was really kind of hoping that there would be a requirement for coming back on to campus,” said Gina Nerone, a law student.

“When they decided they weren’t going to do a vaccine mandate and also significantly reduced the number of classes that were 100% virtual, that struck me as a little odd,” said Kevin Chukel a senior at UW Madison.

“When I ended up seeing the numbers that we were achieving versus schools that did have a requirement, we had really similar, if not in some cases, better numbers,” said Nerone.

“By the end of the first week of classes this year, I think, our vaccine percentage was above 90%,” said Chukel.

Those students say that a high vaccination rate is proof that they’re looking out for each other.

“Making sure people are safe, not putting people who are at higher risk, people who are immuno-compromised or in high-risk categories, not putting more stress on them and making sure they’re safe,” said Kuchta.