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WUWM's Emily Files reports on education in southeastern Wisconsin.

No Plans For UW System Vaccine Mandate As Fall Semester Approaches

UWM
Lauren Sigfusson
/
WUWM
University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee's Mitchell Hall.

The Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine received full approval from the FDA earlier this week. Previously, it had emergency use authorization.

The full approval opens the door for more universities and workplaces to require vaccinations. But University of Wisconsin System interim President Tommy Thompson told reporters Tuesday that his plans haven’t changed — vaccination will be encouraged but not required at UW schools.

"My position is is that we’re not going to require mandatory vaccinations," Thompson said. "That’s always been my position."

Some of Wisconsin’s neighbors have taken a different position. The University of Minnesota announced a student vaccination requirement Tuesday, following the FDA approval. The University of Michigan and University of Illinois issued mandates earlier this summer.

Locally, Marquette University has a mandate, and more than 85% of students have submitted proof of vaccination.

>>Marquette Requires Students To Get Vaccinated Against COVID-19

The UW System’s Thompson said students are getting lots of encouragement to get vaccinated, including $7,000 scholarships for 70 students on campuses that reach a 70% vaccination rate.

"Students want their classes open — they want to be in class," Thompson said. "It’s to their advantage to get vaccinated. We’re going to put on this full court press on our campuses and hopefully we’ll be successful."

UW System spokesperson Mark Pitsch said vaccination numbers for campuses may be available mid-September.

Some university employees were hoping for a vaccine mandate. Nick Fleisher is an associate professor at UW-Milwaukee and president of the state chapter of the American Association of University Professors.

"The vaccine is by far the best tool that we have against the virus," Fleisher said. "And many other university systems across the country are requiring vaccines. Many, many other systems, in some places for K-12 teachers, in some places for public employees — and I think it’s past time for the UW System to join that group."

Almost all UW campuses have mask requirements in place. Fleisher says he’s grateful for that policy, as most UWM classes return in-person starting a week from Thursday.

The UW System's power to institute mask, testing and vaccine mandates is being challenged by Republican lawmakers. The lawmakers want the GOP-controlled rules committee to sign off on any COVID-related requirements.

Thompson put out a statement Tuesday asserting the UW System's authority to make those decisions. The standoff may end up in court.

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