A sign for COVID-19 testing and vaccinations is seen displayed in the Christopher Center on Friday, Sept. 10, 2021, at Concordia University in River Forest, Ill. | ALEX ROGALS/Staff Photographer

David Risch planned on getting vaccinated against COVID-19 months ago but found reasons to put it off. He hated shots and was worried about vaccine side-effects. 

But when Gov. J.B. Pritzker issued a vaccine mandate for Illinois school employees last month, Risch had no choice but to “put it at the top of the list.” With new coronavirus cases rising and schools now back in full swing, Risch said he wanted to do his part and help keep staff and students safe. 

On Sept. 10, Risch, a campus safety officer at Concordia University Chicago, joined a handful of university workers and students at an on-site vaccination clinic and received the first dose of the two-dose Moderna COVID-19 vaccine. The clinic – which was the second one held this month – is part of the university’s effort to make COVID-19 vaccines more accessible to employees and students, as well as their immediate families. A third vaccination clinic will be held from 1 to 3 p.m. Sept. 17, and pre-registration is required. 

The vaccine mandate also applies to college students and healthcare workers and is part of the state’s push to combat the spread of COVID-19, especially with an increase in Delta variant cases. Individuals must receive the single-shot Covid vaccine or the first dose of a two-dose vaccination series by Sept. 19. 

Pritzker initially set a Sept. 5 deadline but recently extended it to accommodate hospital and education leaders who are figuring out testing protocols and how to hold their staff and students accountable. Individuals must have the second shot of two-dose vaccine within 30 days after the first dose. Employees and students who opt out of the COVID-19 vaccine for religious or medical reasons are subject to mandatory testing, according to the state guidance. 

“I wanted to protect the students and employees here,” said Risch, who sat at a table in the back of the room and waited for his 15-minute observation period to end. “In some ways, I probably got it maybe less for myself and more for the people around me to make sure I’ve reduced the risk of transmitting something.” 

Since April, CUC has held between 10 and 12 COVID-19 vaccination clinics on campus, but Dean of Students Kathy Gebhardt said she has noticed less and less people signing up to receive the shot. The university saw dozens of staff and students at the first few clinics, but those numbers have since tapered off, she said.  

Gebhardt thought if the university held more vaccination clinics, more people would be inclined to register for the COVID-19 vaccine, but that’s not the case. At the Sept. 10 clinic, Risch was one of five individuals who received that first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.  

“It seems like those who really wanted it got it early,” Gebhardt said. “Those who have been kind of hesitant waited, but they’re still coming.” 

Gebhardt spoke more about CUC’s approach to encouraging staff and students to get the Covid vaccine prior to Pritzker’s mandate taking effect.

“We’ve strongly recommended it, [and] we’ve made it available,” she said, adding the university believed hosting vaccination clinics on campus and sharing out the dates would bring people in. “We didn’t do a ton of education around the pros and cons only because we felt like it would fall on deaf ears – that students are already hearing it. We talked about doing some sort of campaign or what not, but thought is that even going to make a difference?” 

“So we’ve just taken more of a ‘We strongly recommend it,’” she said. “‘Here are some dates. It’s convenient.’” 

The university has not shared how many of its employees and students are fully vaccinated. 

For Clark Stutsman and Frankie Rodriguez, they cited their families as their reason for getting vaccinated against the novel coronavirus. Stutsman, an incoming freshman, and Rodriguez, whose wife works at CUC, said they researched Covid vaccines before making that final call and scheduling their appointments. 

“It’s not really a political thing. It’s more of a health issue,” said Stutsman, adding he wanted to protect his family, especially his grandma who is immunocompromised. 

As for Rodriguez, his decision came down to this: “I thought about the risk of not doing it over the risk of actually getting it done. Regardless of what’s happening, there’s less of a risk being vaccinated. If I can increase my chances of staying here for my family, then I decided that it’s the best move.” 

Rodriguez said he’s been hesitant about Covid vaccines ever since they came out in the spring, and when he saw the nurse approach him, he became lightheaded. 

“I can feel myself sweating from the nerves,” said Rodriguez, who was midway through his observation period. “But I’m also finally relieved. There’s no turning back now.” 

To learn more about COVID-19 vaccines, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at www.cdc.gov/vaccines/covid-19/index.html. For more information on CUC’s vaccination clinics or to pre-register for the Sept. 17 clinic, visit www.cuchicago.edu/general-information/covid-19-information/.

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