By: Haley Hersey, News Editor
“Before they made the decision to make the vaccine mandatory for students to be on campus, it was going to be a very interesting challenge for USM’s health leadership to accomplish mobilizing a lot of people – students, faculty, and anyone in the USM community to get vaccinated,” said Raul Gierbolini.
Gierbolini received his Bachelors in Science in Athletic Training at the University of Southern Maine and is in his second year of graduate school for his Master’s of Public Health. Recently, he completed a proposal for a Vaccine Intervention Plan. The research he completed was part of his graduate school program.
From that proposal, an abstract was submitted and accepted to the Maine Public Health Conference. On October 13, Gierbolini will be presenting his plan through use of posters at the three day conference, which spans from October 12-14.
Vaccine hesitancy is very important, said Gierbolini. “According to the World Health Organization, [vaccine hesitancy is] one of the top ten world public health threats.”
Essentially, vaccine hesitancy describes the unease people feel towards getting a vaccination. Some of the resistance to vaccination comes from confusion on the source of the information people consume.
“Vaccinations don’t just stop COVID-19, they’ve been available and open our entire lives. They range from MMR vaccines, influenza vaccines. Citizens in the United States are fortunate enough to have access to vaccines,” said Gierbolini. He also said communication needs to be done in a manner that “reaches people’s levels of literacy, especially health literacy.”
“Many people work very hard after years of education to push out information. It is important to utilize that as examples and not just any voice that you hear,” said Gierbolini. “We need to be able to encourage and develop our critical thinking through asking questions, being curious, and rely on best practices and best evidence on a topic, such as vaccination.”
The University of Maine System (UMS) announced on September 10 via email from Chancellor Dannel Malloy that “students who choose to not become fully vaccinated by October 15 or seek an exemption by that date will no longer be eligible to live or learn in person on our campuses. By their choice, these learners must be prepared for their education and housing to be disrupted this semester.”
USM has offered multiple vaccination clinics on campus and promoted off-campus sites for students, faculty and staff in addition to testing sites on both campuses.
The UMS shared that they cannot guarantee a change in instructional modality for those “who willingly give up their privilege of living and learning in person on campus.” There will not be any special refund policies for those students either. Those who are considered exempt from the vaccination are required to participate in weekly testing.
Chancellor Malloy stated in the same email that he has been “saying that I want our faculty and staff to meet the same expectations we have for our students. I want every faculty and staff member who can be vaccinated to do so, and I’ve invited our labor leaders to join me in encouraging full vaccination for everyone who can.”
As for faculty and staff who cannot get the vaccine, they are also required to participate in weekly testing. They hope to finalize faculty and staff vaccination protocol soon.
One thing Gierbolini thinks USM students should consider is “USM, the community that it is, a small one where we all run into each other once or twice in a semester, it is important for each one of us to make the best decisions for our individual health, but also on the best knowledge and research for the health of everyone else. In this instance, vaccination has proven to be best at combating that.”