As the Delta variant surges in Polk County, Drake University is trying new tactics to encourage students to get vaccinated for COVID-19, including vaccination clinics in Hubbell Dining Hall and drawings for prize money.
The Polk County Health Department said on Aug. 24 that COVID-19 hospitalizations have increased by 175% and cases by 87% over the past three weeks. In the same statement, Polk County medical examiner Joshua Akers said that more young people are being hospitalized with COVID-19.
“If people don’t get the vaccine, they are likely to get COVID. Because it’s here, now. It seems like it’s endemic,” Drake provost and epidemiologist Sue Mattison told The Times-Delphic. “So it would be helpful [for more students to get vaccinated], but we are not able to mandate it, so we are working on education and encouragement and making the vaccine easily available.”
According to Drake’s Aug. 27 COVID-19 update, 67% of all students and 71% of students who attend at least one class in-person have reported that they have been vaccinated. Drake’s COVID-19 updates show a sharp increase in vaccination reports throughout August.
This may be due in part to an incentives program that has awarded $250 VISA gift cards and free parking passes to randomly selected vaccinated students. Mattison said vaccination numbers “went up quite a bit” after the University publicized its plan to draw for 20 $2,500 one-time scholarships if four-fifths of in-person students are fully vaccinated by Sept. 24.
“I think people didn’t see the point of telling us that they had been vaccinated, but when the numbers get high enough, it will certainly have an impact on what we’re able to do on campus, and if we don’t get up to those numbers, that will also have an impact on what we’re able to do on campus,” Mattison said.
Mattison said an Iowa state law passed over the summer prevents Drake from requiring students to get vaccinated without losing state grant money. This includes the Iowa Tuition Grant, which provides students from Iowa who attend private institutions in the state up to $6,800 in grant money each year, according to the Iowa Association of Independent Colleges and Universities. Mattison added that students will be required to get vaccinated to study abroad.
“Thirty percent of our undergraduate students are from the state, and for a lot of students that’s the difference between being able to afford to come to a private institution or going to a public institution,” Mattison said.
Students on their way to and from lunch at Hubbell Dining Hall have the opportunity to receive both the Pfizer COVID-19 and influenza (flu) vaccines without an appointment at a series of clinics staffed by the students and faculty of Drake’s College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences (CPHS).
“I was going to get [the vaccine] at home, but my mom is one of those anti-vaccine people, so I waited until I got here,” Drake student Hannah Clark said while waiting in Hubbell to get her shot.
Nora Stelter, a Drake associate professor of pharmacy practice who has been involved with running the clinics, said she is excited to offer the flu vaccine to Drake students regularly for the first time.
“Like last year, we had the big push that was, ‘We don’t want people sick with flu in the hospital,’ because our hospitals—at that point, we were expecting them to be very full last year with COVID patients,” Stelter said. “So the same thing again, we want to keep people out of the hospital with influenza illness for the same reasons. So it’s important to get your flu shot again this year.”
According to Stelter, the students and faculty of CPHS will also run influenza and COVID-19 vaccination clinics at the Harkin Center on Monday mornings and Friday afternoons from Sept. 13 to mid-October.
Stelter said students who are hesitant about taking the vaccine should reach out to her team at the vaccination clinic.
“Obviously, our team is constantly reading the new literature that comes out every day,” Stelter said. “So, very informed. We have a lot of information we can share to those who have any concerns.”