How Much Do College Students Want the COVID-19 Vaccine?

Andrew Deichler By Andrew Deichler March 17, 2021
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How Much Do College Students Want the COVID-19 Vaccine?

​Students generally want to get the COVID-19 vaccine as soon as possible, though with a few exceptions. Whether they get vaccinated or not largely depends on their attitudes toward resuming normal college life as well as some outside influences.

Return to Normalcy?

Debbie Mackey, SHRM-SCP, distinguished lecturer at the University of Tennessee's Haslam College of Business in Knoxville, Tenn., believes that most students will take the vaccine as soon as they can get it. "I think the majority of them are OK with the vaccine because they miss the social interaction and everything so much," she said. "They would like to have somewhat normal graduation. The majority of them that I've talked to are okay with the vaccine."

Ashley Dugger, DBA, SHRM-CP, program chair of human resource management for Western Governors University (WGU) in Salt Lake City, agreed that a major motivator for vaccination among HR students is a return to in-person activities. Even though her school is fully online, it has a robust SHRM student chapter that hosts events throughout the year. Students are excited about those events getting back to normal.

Dugger's chapter regularly hosts its own events, and also takes some students to the SHRM Annual Conference. But those have all shifted to virtual events during the pandemic. "I know there has been a sense of excitement for when we can get back to in-person projects," she said. "For online students especially, those rare chances, pre-COVID, to meet and connect in person with fellow classmates, faculty, professional contacts, and community members seemed to be quite important to our students."

All of this likely comes as no surprise; many students have felt isolated over the past year as they have been taking classes mostly online and haven't had a normal college experience. The U.S. Census Bureau recently completed a mental health survey on people who live alone and found that adults between the ages of 18 and 44 had higher rates of anxiety and depression than individuals 45 and older.

As for colleges themselves, most appear to be feeling out the situation to determine whether they will ultimately make vaccination a requirement. Mackey noted that the University of Tennessee currently requires students to get the flu vaccine and is still discussing making the COVID-19 vaccine mandatory.

Vaccine Indifference and Skepticism

While most students that Mackey has interacted with appear motivated to get the vaccine, she believes that some of those attitudes could wane over time. She's concerned that once the rollout is complete, some students may feel that the threat has passed and could simply refrain from getting vaccinated, similar to how many people skip the flu vaccine each year. "But I hope the students don't stop getting the vaccine," she said.

Some of the students Dugger works with have indicated they may hold off on getting the vaccine because they are unsure about potential side effects. This mirrors data recently collected by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM). In late 2020 and early 2021, SHRM surveyed its members and found that 40 percent of employed Americans will likely not get the vaccine, with the most common reason being potential side effects.

Other students simply may not be able to access the vaccine for quite some time due to their state rollout systems. "In general, the majority of conversations I've had tend to lean toward the positive impacts that wider vaccination would have for a return to normalcy, but there is also some hesitation for potential side effects/medical reasons," Dugger said.

Ren'ee A. Mangini, SHRM-SCP, HR professor and department chair for HR at Lake Washington Institute of Technology (LWTech) in Kirkland, Wash., and a SHRM student chapter advisor, polled a 12-student class this week on vaccination. Half the class said it would be getting the shot. This surprised Mangini, who had thought that the majority would want to get vaccinated.

Students who are planning not to take the vaccine expressed the following reasons:

  • Skepticism over whether the vaccine will work (3).
  • Health-related issues (2).
  • Religious issues (1).

Mangini added that LWTech is encouraging staff and faculty to get vaccinated, though not yet to the point of mandating it. But to be on campus, students and faculty must answer certain health questions and have a temperature check. "This may change in the fall," she said.

For more insights on how SHRM members are viewing the COVID-19 vaccine, download Navigating COVID-19: The Workplace Perspective on Vaccination.

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