East Stroudsburg University (ESU) is offering incentives to students who receive the Covid-19 vaccine.
While vaccination and disclosure of vaccination is optional, students who choose to share their vaccination status on ESU’s medical history form will be entered into an incentive drawing for a variety of prizes, including tuition and housing waivers, campus meal plans, recreation center memberships, parking passes, textbook scholarships, and an array of gift cards.
Students will receive their medical history form via email, and must have it completed and returned to ESU’s health center by Aug. 1. Winners will be announced on Aug. 16 and must provide proof of vaccination to receive their prize.
Vaccinated students will not be required to have regular Covid-19 testing.
The protocols the university put in place during last spring helped but they were very time-consuming and costly, said ESU Interim President Kenneth Long. He sees vaccination as the only viable option to prevent a resurgence of the Covid-19 in college communities throughout the Pocono Mountain Region.
While masking protocols in Pennsylvania have been updated, ESU says some of its own Covid guidelines will remain in place for the time being. Masks will continue to be required in all public areas of buildings, building entry will remain restricted to university business only, and social distancing continues to be recommended.
Long made this decision based on current Covid-19 cases and vaccination rates in Monroe County. “As of July 1, the fully vaccinated rate in our county is 40.8 percent,” he said.
In Pike County, the fully vaccinated rate is 39.6 percent, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Health. Experts say a single shot of a double-dose regimen provides only weak immunity to the Delta variant, which is quickly becoming the dominant variant in Pennsylvania.
Long said the university has no legal authority to mandate the vaccine for students or employees, “therefore we must take all other actions within our control to mitigate the resurgence of the virus on-campus. This includes the rollout of a completely voluntary Covid-19 vaccination incentive initiative for students.”
He said external organizations such as school districts, medical facilities, private institutions, and sporting venues may require proof of vaccination to participate in off-campus activities like athletic competition, student-teaching, student-nursing, service learning, and internships.
According to the most recent CDC data released on May 22, only 38 percent of Americans age 18-29 had been at least partially vaccinated. For Long, that is a major concern.
“We are eager to have a full campus this fall,” he said. “But we want to do it safely and keep our students and community healthy. It is our hope that a little extra incentive will encourage more people to get the vaccine.
“It’s important that we all do our part to remain safe, particularly as new variants of Covid-19 emerge. As an institution of higher education in this region, we must lead with facts about the vaccine and offer our students and our neighbors the best information possible so they may make good decisions about their own health and that of their family and friends. My hope is that this incentive drawing goes well beyond awareness to action.”