At most of the largest U.S. public universities, students are under no obligation to be vaccinated against COVID-19. Some schools do require vaccines, but with leniency for those who opt out. Still others have expelled students who do not comply.

As a new semester begins amid a resurgence of the coronavirus, administrators and faculty nationwide see high vaccination rates as key to bringing some normalcy back to campus. Where mandates face political opposition, schools are relying on incentives and outreach to get more students vaccinated.

An analysis by The Associated Press shows 26 of the nation’s 50 largest public university campuses are not requiring vaccination, representing roughly 55% of students enrolled at those schools. The AP looked at the largest campuses by 2019-2020 enrollment that offer on-campus housing and award bachelor’s degrees.

Universities with vaccine mandates are concentrated in the Northeast and California. Almost all of those without mandates are in states that have restricted the ability to implement COVID-19 vaccine requirements, including Florida, Texas and Arizona.

Here is a look at approaches that three public universities are taking to get students vaccinated:

UNIVERSITY OF CONNECTICUT

Students are required to be vaccinated, but the school has been lenient with those opposed to getting the shots. It has granted over 800 exemptions without denying a single request, no matter the reason.

Officials are working with students who have not complied with the mandate to understand their concerns about the vaccines, said the university’s interim president, Dr. Andrew Agwunobi, a pediatrician.

“We would be very sensitive to the fact that there is misinformation out there, that we might need to educate the student,” he said. “So it’s about trying to work with that student to understand what their concerns are, trying to get them to the right place in terms of vaccinations.”

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The campus set up clinics for unvaccinated students to get shots as they arrive. Among those who signed up was graduate student Cindy Barreto, who said it was hard to get an appointment back home in Brazil, where her brother was hospitalized in intensive care with the virus.

“I know people who are waiting to get the vaccine, and I would say don’t do that,” she said.

At the school in Storrs where 25% of classes were online last year, students are hoping for a better experience this fall. About 90% of classes were expected to be in person this semester at the university where about 11,000 of the 19,000 undergraduates live on campus. All students must wear masks indoors, and those who are unvaccinated face weekly testing.

“I was at my friend’s residence hall, and I was just talking to a bunch of people, and I was like, ‘I haven’t done this in a while, especially with people my age,’” said Sahiti Bhyravavahala, a sophomore from Avon, Connecticut, who spent her freshman year at home taking classes online. “So, yes, it does feel surreal for sure, overwhelming as well. But I’m also very excited to get to know people.”

Ten COVID-19 infections have …read more

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