Nearly 15% of the students enrolled at Connecticut community colleges have received non-medical exemptions from the system’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate, a rate that administrators suggested could be brought down with efforts to educate students about the vaccine.
Of the 37,116 students enrolled at the state’s community colleges this semester, 71% are fully or partially vaccinated; 5,479 or 15% have received non-medical exemptions and 12% have not yet reported their status.
Of the 22,698 who are studying on campus, 17,873 (79%) are fully or partially vaccinated, 2,030 (9%) have received non-medical exemptions and 2,423 (10.6%) have not yet reported their status.
At the four regional universities, roughly 80% of students are fully or partially vaccinated, and 8% of the overall enrolled students have received a non-medical exemption from the vaccine mandate.
At the community colleges, students attending courses in-person are required to fill out a form that asks them about their vaccination status and if they would like to request a medical or non-medical exemption. The CSCU system wanted to implement “a workable system that protects student data and prioritizes accessibility,” according to Leigh Appleby, the CSCU spokesperson.
“It has been successful this semester,” he said. “However, as President [Terrence] Cheng has noted, we continue to explore our options to drastically reduce or eliminate non-medical exemptions.”
Those who received non-medical exemptions have to comply with weekly surveillance testing, which is available at all 17 schools in the system at no cost to students.
Angelo Simoni Jr., dean of students at Manchester Community College and executive director for student relations and compliance at the system office, explained that one of the goals at their college is to try to educate students about the vaccine and encourage them to get vaccinated, especially as vaccines become approved by the Food and Drug Administration.
“There was a good group, a medium-sized group of people that were waiting for the vaccine to become FDA approved, and then they move forward with canceling their non-medical exemption and getting the vaccination,” Simoni said. “So we are seeing the needle move in the right direction.”
Simoni explained that even with many students studying online, safety protocols like mask mandates, weekly testing and physical distancing are still in place.
“In terms of me feeling safe or the campus feeling safe, I think we’re doing the best we can, maybe even a level going above and beyond” with the mandates, Simoni said. The schools will continue the mandates on the campuses unless something “monumental changes in the health landscape” that would also cause the state Department of Public Health and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to change their guidance.
“There’s less of an issue with everybody wearing masks, regardless of vaccination status, that adds a level of comfort in the classroom and out of the classroom, which I think is helpful to our campus community,” he said.
While students at the community colleges have to provide an attestation form, students at the state universities have to upload their vaccination cards for the university health service department to review and confirm. Students who received exemptions at the state universities also have to be tested for COVID-19 weekly.
Sal Cintorino, the chief operating officer at Central Connecticut State University, said that approximately 95% of the residential students at CCSU and 90% of commuter students have been fully or partially vaccinated.
“We’re really excited about where we are,” he said, adding that the goal this year is to continue to educate the campus community about the vaccines. Cintorino said the pandemic’s extension into a third academic year has been a learning experience and helped when it came to preparing for the fall.
“But it’s all about compliance and teamwork,” Cintorino said. “So the students and faculty and staff have been really good in helping us to manage this, and that’s really what would make this work.”
The University of Connecticut also implemented a vaccine mandate for all UConn students this summer.
As of Wednesday, over 90% of all students across all five of UConn’s campuses reported being fully or partially vaccinated. But prior to the start of the semester, The Hartford Courant reported that more than 500 students at the University of Connecticut were approved for non-medical exemptions.