UK students ‘support mandatory vaccination’ for campus return

Significant share of students say they would be more likely to get vaccine if they could do so on campus, but research reveals wide differences by ethnicity

March 31, 2021
vaccine needle inoculation injection
Source: iStock

The majority of UK university students believe that they should only be able to return to in-person teaching and shared accommodation once they have had the Covid-19 vaccine, according to new research.

A survey of 1,020 students across the UK sector, commissioned by the University of East London (UEL), found that 60 per cent of respondents supported the idea that full vaccination against Covid-19 should be a requirement for returning to in-person teaching (while 22 per cent opposed). Fifty-five per cent said it should be required for returning to shared accommodation (28 per cent opposed) and 57 per cent said they should only be able to meet with others socially once they have been fully vaccinated (24 per cent opposed).

Overall, 70 per cent of respondents said they would either definitely get the vaccine, be very likely to do so or had already had at least one dose, while 13 per cent said either they would definitely not get the vaccine or were unlikely to do so.

More than two-fifths of respondents (43 per cent) said they would be more likely to get the Covid-19 vaccine if they were invited to do so at their university campus, according to the survey, which was carried out by Savanta ComRes between 5 and 18 March. However, the majority of students (51 per cent) said a vaccination centre on campus would make no difference to their likelihood of getting inoculated.

The vast majority of students (91 per cent) said that universities should at least help in the vaccination roll-out for their own students and potentially for the wider community where they are located, too.

Amanda Broderick, vice-chancellor and president at UEL, said the university was awaiting approval to become a vaccination centre for students, staff and the wider community.

However, the research reveals substantial differences based on ethnicity. Just 44 per cent of black students indicated that they would have the Covid-19 vaccine and 29 per cent said they definitely would not or were unlikely to do so. Despite that, black students were still more likely to support, rather than oppose, the idea of students only being able to return to in-person teaching and shared accommodation once they had been vaccinated.

The survey also found that 40 per cent of students overall were concerned about the side effects of the Covid-19 vaccine, increasing to 67 per cent among black students, while 16 per cent thought the vaccine was unsafe.

The majority of students (56 per cent) said they would feel comfortable interacting with students and staff at their university who had not been vaccinated, but 40 per cent said they would not.

Most students (55 per cent) felt that their own university had performed well in the handling of the pandemic (while 20 per cent felt it had performed badly).

The survey data were weighted by gender, age, region, ethnicity and study type or year to be representative of the UK university population.

Winston Morgan, reader in toxicology and clinical biochemistry at UEL, said it was important not to “mistake the caution of black students around taking the vaccine for irrational hesitancy”.

“This response is based on their lived experiences – I call it ‘vaccine agency’ – where black students feel empowered to demand clearer information about safety and efficacy from those offering the vaccine, including universities. Once that occurs, black students will take the vaccine,” he said.

A joint statement issued by the Universities and Colleges Employers Association and higher education unions says that universities should support the roll-out of Covid-19 vaccines but advises that “if setting a vaccination policy, HE employers should follow a voluntary approach as part of their aims and objectives, recognising that there may be valid medical, cultural or other important factors why individuals may not want or be able to be vaccinated and, where not legally required to do so, they should suffer no detriment”.

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