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Conn expects to have 90% of students vaccinated by semester's end

New London — Connecticut College planned to have initial doses of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine administered to 500 students Tuesday, and expects that more than 90% of the student body will have received two doses by the time the spring semester ends in mid-May.

Community Health Center personnel delivered the shots at the college’s Athletic Center.

“I feel like at this point, I want campus — and life — to get back to normal, and this is a step in that direction,” Sydney Cresta, a 20-year-old freshman from Swampscott, Mass., said after getting a shot. “A lot of people got it elsewhere, but this is so accessible.”

The clinic is Conn’s latest salvo in the war against COVID-19, a campaign that since the fall has involved twice weekly testing of all students.

Cresta said she tested positive during the fall semester and isolated for two weeks in an on-campus apartment set aside for that purpose. Contact tracing found she’d had close contact with about 10 people, all of whom also were quarantined in a bid to prevent the spread of the disease.

Conn’s approach appears to have been effective.

During the spring semester, only 10 COVID-19 cases have been detected among the 1,300 students living on campus, according to the college’s dean of students, Victor Arcelus. Thirteen cases among faculty and staff members also have cropped up.

Under the state's age-based rollout of the vaccine, college students became eligible for vaccinations April 1, at which time Conn provided students with information on how to get vaccinated locally. It urged them to wait until community members had had an opportunity to do so first.

Originally, the state planned to provide colleges with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which only requires one dose, but switched to Pfizer when use of the J&J vaccine was “paused” after being linked to a half-dozen cases of blood clots. The Moderna vaccine was ruled out because it requires that recipients wait four weeks for a second dose, by which time some students would have headed home.

Arcelus said the Conn administration had surveyed students about vaccinations and found that as of two weeks ago, 60% of them had been vaccinated or were about to be vaccinated. Another 35% were scheduled to be vaccinated at Tuesday’s clinic.

Survey results showed 2% of students had no intention of getting vaccinated while another 3% said they still were considering it, Arcelus said.

Students who indicated they didn’t intend to get vaccinated weren’t required to provide a reason.

While a growing number of mostly private colleges and universities have announced they will require students to be vaccinated before they can return to campuses in the fall, Conn has not decided whether it will adopt such a policy, according to Arcelus.

More than 50 institutions, many of them in the Northeast, including Wesleyan and Yale in Connecticut, have decided to mandate back-to-school vaccinations, the Chronicle of Higher Education reported Tuesday.

“Conn hasn’t told us about the fall (and whether it will require vaccinations), but it wouldn’t surprise me if it did,” Lyndon Inglis, an 18-year-old freshman from Brooklyn, N.Y., said after getting a shot. “I think it’s reasonable.” 

Neither the University of Connecticut, nor the Coast Guard Academy nor Mitchell College in New London require that students get vaccinated.

“UConn doesn’t mandate its employees and/or students to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, but strongly urges them to do so and has taken many extra steps to make it as quick and convenient for them as possible,” Stephanie Reitz, a UConn spokeswoman, wrote in an email. “Most of our students left campus at spring break and moved out of university housing at that time, since our final two weeks’ worth of classes are being conducted fully online.”

At the start of the fall semester, UConn will offer the vaccine to any student who hasn’t received it and wants it, Reitz wrote.

More than 1,000 Coast Guard Academy cadets have been vaccinated, while 33 cadets have “deferred,” and one in quarantine has yet to be vaccinated, according to Cmdr. Dave Milne, an academy spokesman.

“The military cannot require members to get the shot at this time so it is still voluntary yet highly recommended,” Milne said.

Mitchell College’s policy on student vaccinations is under discussion, according to Britt Barry, a spokeswoman.

b.hallenbeck@theday.com

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