Viray Tagler UI Vaccine

University of Illinois seniors Leslie Viray and Dominic Tagler

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URBANA — Like lots of other University of Illinois students, senior Dominic Tagler tends to skim the mass emails the school sends out.

But Thursday’s message caught his eye.

At the end of Chancellor Robert Jones’ message announcing a vaccine mandate for campus, he saw that just under 90 percent of undergraduate and graduate students on campus had uploaded a completed vaccination card by Thursday morning.

“That did shock me,” Tagler said. “Between the banter of pro-vaxx and anti-vaxx, you kind of assume that the groups balance each other out to an extent.”

Previously, students, faculty or staff could either get vaccinated or submit to a rigorous on-campus testing schedule: every other day for undergraduates or twice a week for staff, grad students and faculty.

Now, everyone without a valid religious or medical exemption — for which the UI is currently creating a verification process — must receive their first dose of a vaccine by Sept. 5.

“Oh, wow,” said UI senior Mostafa Abdalla, upon hearing about the updated policy for the first time. Despite the initial surprise, he said he’s in favor of the tougher stance on unvaccinated individuals.

“I feel like it would be inadequate as a person in the community and still feel like they shouldn’t need the vaccine for reasons other than the two previously listed (religious and medical),” Abdalla said.

At a couple smaller gatherings he’s attended on campus — for the Muslim Student Association and Arab Student Association — the hosts asked all attendants to show their vaccine cards or the “building access granted” message on the Safer Illinois app, indicating their card is already on file or they had a recent negative test.

“It was a tighter space, so I felt a little more secure that everyone was vaccinated or COVID negative,” he said.

While students are leading the pack vaccine-wise, the outlier group on campus is civil-service workers, whose vaccination rate on Thursday morning was at 65 percent.

Did that surprise eight-year Facilities and Services employee Kyle Frederick?

“I guess it did, and it didn’t,” he said. “When I first saw the number, I was like, ‘Wow, that’s low,’ but then I started thinking about it and said ‘No, that’s not surprising.’”

Frederick said he’s heard significant mask and vaccine skepticism among civil-service workers on campus, but the mandate may sway some vocal opponents.

“I think that the majority will just go ahead and get vaccinated," he said. “I think probably this is what they’ve been waiting for, the ultimatum. They’ve been wanting to put it off as long as possible.”

A few unvaccinated coworkers he’s spoken with since the announcement said they plan to suck it up and get the shot.

“They’re not happy about it, they’re not pleased with it — they’re frustrated, and there’s going to be some lasting resentment because of it,” Frederick said. “I’m sure there are a few who will push and call the bluff, so to say. We’ll see how it goes, is kind of where I’m at.”

McKinley Health Center is responsible for processing vaccine cards for those on campus. Director Robert Parker said had fewer than 1,000 left to process and upload Friday morning.

“We’re in pretty good shape and are working through the weekend as well,” he said.

So what about the folks who are getting their first doses in the next week? Student vaccinations immediately upload into the school’s Medicat system, Parker said.

And for faculty and staff who have consented for the university to have their data, Parker said McKinley pulls vaccination records from the state’s I-CARE database after they’re entered by the employee’s vaccine vendors.

“If the individual is vaccinated outside the state, then an upload would be necessary,” Parker said.

That McKinley is in “good shape” uploading cards is good news for Tagler, who works as a wellness support associate, one of more than 300 employees who periodically monitor campus buildings, checking whether entrants have uploaded their vaccine cards or received a negative COVID-19 test.

“I’ve been firsthand getting a lot of problems of people uploading their vaccine cards,” Tagler said Friday. “Even some who tried uploading in June, it looks fine, completely verified, they’ll show me their card, and I go, ‘I don’t know what could be wrong about it.’”

Policy dictates that advocates can’t let a vaccinated individual enter a campus building with just the card alone; they must also show the “building access granted” message on their Safer Illinois app, he said.

In the meantime, those who haven’t had their vaccine cards fully uploaded must continue testing at the prescribed rate.

Fellow senior Leslie Viray, unlike Tagler, wasn’t taken aback by the student vaccination figure.

“I wasn’t really that shocked,” she said. “I know so many students who’ve expressed how they want campus to be normal again. I honestly don’t even know anyone who hasn’t been vaccinated.”

In her ice-skating class, her professor checks everyone’s app before the day begins.

“It’s kind of like attendance,” Viray said.

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