Michigan college campuses will be welcoming students back soon. But most haven’t been vaccinated.

(Glen Oaks Community College|Linkedin)

By Julia Forrest, Michigan Advance

As college campuses across Michigan are less than a month away from opening up to students for the fall semester, the state reports only 39.8% of residents 20 to 29 years old have been inoculated with at least one dose of the coronavirus vaccine. Those aged 16 to 19 have a slightly higher rate of 40.3%. 

In order to boost confidence in the vaccine and hopefully get more of the Gen Z population vaccinated in the Great Lakes State, the state of Michigan is hosting a series of community town halls with young adults and medical professionals to speak about their experiences with the vaccine to encourage their peers to get immunized, too. The state also is teaming up with Meijer and other entities on a lottery-style raffle and scholarship prizes for students to boost vaccinations.

An hour-long event was hosted Tuesday by Danielle El-Amin, a strategic advisor to Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist. The event largely focused on the panelists discussing their experiences with the vaccine, addressing misinformation and encouraging the audience to get vaccinated.

“For me, it was the mentality of, you wouldn’t tell an engineer how to build a bridge, right?” said Christina El Zarka, a University of Michigan student and founder of Save Summer 2021, a nonprofit aiming to debunk misinformation surrounding the vaccine. “You trust the physics, the science, the experts to tell you that that bridge is safe to cross thousands of cars over every single day. So that was my same mentality with doctors.”

The state of Michigan has set a goal to get at least 70% of Michiganders vaccinated. So far, nearly 5 million residents 16 and older, which equates to 62%, have received at least one dose. 

As of May 22, only 38.3% of people 18 to 29 had been vaccinated nationally according to the CDC. The Gen Z population has the lowest vaccination rate across all age groups in America.

In many states, the younger generation made up an alarming percentage of cases in late June, including in states like Arizona and Texas. Experts say the rise in the younger generation contracting COVID-19 could be due, in part, because many were itching to socialize and bars and restaurants opening back up after pandemic restrictions were lifted.

Jeremy Hogstrom, a resident physician at Authority Health Internal Medicine, spoke at the event alongside his twin, Jermaine Hogstrom, about the importance in increasing awareness around the vaccine in order to boost the numbers of people getting the vaccine. 

“Knowledge is power and that’s very true in this situation,” said Hogstrom.  “Fear comes from just either not knowing or not understanding enough. So the more you learn and seek that information in general the more comfortable you will start to become.” 

The panel-style Zoom call came after other virtual events have taken place to include various other communities in the vaccine conversation, including communities of color, faith-based leaders,and local governments. The state of Michigan says it will continue to host town halls with both public health experts and community leaders after Tuesday’s event.

Michigan colleges and universities range on policies requiring vaccines for their more than 500,000 students, but many have at least created campaigns encouraging students to get the shot. 

Oakland University has a plan to have all students who are living on campus be vaccinated. 

The University of Michigan Ann Arbor campus does not have a mandate, although the idea is widely popular among faculty and students. However, the university did require those living on campus to be vaccinated by July 16. Roughly 76% of students have already received the vaccine. 

Michigan State University said it will not require the COVID-19 vaccine for students, faculty or staff this fall, a decision that has left many at odds with the decision. Students will be required to fill out a survey regarding the vaccine, however. 

Central Michigan University piloted a vaccine incentive program with prizes that included four scholarships equivalent to a full year of tuition as well as various types of gift cards. 

The GOP-controlled Michigan Legislature hasn’t approved a final Fiscal Year 2022 budget yet, but some lawmakers have been hostile to vaccine mandates. The House budget plan would prevent universities from requiring students to be vaccinated against COVID-19 as a condition of enrolling, attending in-person classes or living in university housing.

Over 40 colleges across the state have also joined the COVID-19 College Vaccine Challenge, a challenge by the Biden administration and the Department of Education to help boost vaccination rates among the younger generation. The challenge aims for colleges to establish a system to engage every student, faculty and staff member, organize their communities and make the vaccine accessible to everyone. 

Michigan Advance is part of States Newsroom, a network of news outlets supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Michigan Advance maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Susan Demas for questions: info@michiganadvance.com. Follow Michigan Advance on Facebook and Twitter.