Louisiana college leaders seeing COVID vaccinations increase

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Coronavirus vaccinations among Louisiana’s college students are increasing as the state offers $100 cash cards for those who get the shots and as campuses start setting immunization requirements, the state’s higher education leaders said Wednesday.

Presidents of Louisiana’s four public college systems praised Gov. John Bel Edwards’ decision to set aside $7.5 million to pay for the cash cards for up to 75,000 college students that roll up their sleeves for the inoculation against COVID-19.

“This is one that we’ve already seen has had a significant impact on the number of students that are seeking vaccination,” said University of Louisiana System President Jim Henderson. “Those are the types of strategies we think are going to be important to reach the vaccination levels necessary to protect our campuses.”

The “Shot for $100” campaign has persuaded more than 2,000 students so far to get immunized against the coronavirus illness, and those numbers are only expected to increase as 12 campuses started classes this week, said Commissioner of Higher Education Kim Hunter Reed.

The comments came at a meeting of Louisiana’s top higher education policymaking board, the Board of Regents, which received an update on schools’ response to the state’s latest record-breaking surge of COVID-19.

Louisiana has 200,000 college students. All of the state’s four-year universities are requiring students get vaccinated against COVID-19. The requirements kick in as early as Sept. 10 for students at Louisiana State University to submit proof of their first shot and later in the fall for other schools.

LSU says 54% of the 39,000 students and employees at its main campus in Baton Rouge have reported that they have received at least one shot of the COVID-19 vaccination.

“There appears to be a reasonable uptick in the vaccinations,” LSU President William Tate told the Regents board. “There is general optimism that we can get the student body and faculty and staff vaccinated.”

The Southern University System announced late Tuesday that its students will have to get vaccinated before registering for the spring semester and that faculty and staff also will be required to receive the shots.

“We are actually very pleased with the degree to which our student leaders are serving as messengers and really motivating other students to get vaccinated,” said Southern University System President Ray Belton.

But Louisiana has a fairly broad set of vaccine exemptions in state law. Students can provide a doctor’s note citing a medical condition that precludes getting the vaccine or a “written dissent” form objecting to the shot.

Henderson said Louisiana is one of 15 states that allow a philosophical objection to avoid an immunization requirement, making it impossible to really mandate a vaccine. He said more than 80% of the faculty across the UL System’s nine campuses are vaccinated, but only about 40% of their 92,000 students are.

“That number is increasing. It’s not increasing fast enough, but it is increasing,” Henderson said.

He and other higher education leaders said the full federal approval granted to the Pfizer vaccine Monday, along with the vaccine requirements that kicked in across campuses, should encourage many more students to get vaccinated.

Only 40% of Louisiana residents are fully immunized against COVID-19, according to state health department data. That’s one of the lowest vaccination rates in the nation, with only five states registering lower inoculation levels, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.


Follow Melinda Deslatte on Twitter at http://twitter.com/melindadeslatte. Follow AP’s coverage of the pandemic at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic.