Gov. Mike DeWine at Ohio University

Gov. Mike DeWine speaks to reporters at Ohio University’s Heritage Hall about the effort to vaccinate students. Photo by Ben Peters.

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine visited Ohio University on Monday to tour the Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine’s Heritage Hall, where the university in partnership with the Athens City-County Health Department and OhioHealth operate vaccine clinics for students and residents.

DeWine’s visit marked just over one week since the university began administering doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine to students as part of his administration’s effort to vaccinate university students across the state before the summer. Following his tour of the newly constructed facility, DeWine watched a handful of students be immunized with the one-dose shot while chatting with them about the vaccine.

“The vaccine is really our ticket to a great spring and a great summer. We talked to the students, they were happy it was a one shot and they really looked at this as an opportunity to do things they have not been able to do,” he said.

The governor spoke to members of the media alongside OU leaders, including President Duane Nellis, and Athens City-County Health Department administrator Jack Pepper about the value of vaccinating college students as a means to prevent spread, among other pertinent state and national issues.

“This partnership you’re seeing here today is very important. Yes, young people generally don’t get too sick, some do. But we also know that they’re significant carriers and if we are going to get to the herd immunity, if we’re going to slow this virus down in Ohio, we have to have our young people who will take it,” DeWine told reporters.

Dr. Kenneth Johnson, dean of the Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine, said university polling showed 86 percent of students were interested in being vaccinated. Dr. Gillian Ice, special assistant to Nellis for public health operations, said student vaccine clinics have been “well attended, but not full,” and that university leaders believe many have already begun vaccination through other area providers.

While a growing number of universities across the country will require students to be immunized for the fall semester, OU doesn’t plan to follow suit. The institution, however, is working to build incentive structures to push students to get their shots, such as relieving them of undergoing rigorous COVID-19 testing procedures if they’re vaccinated, Johnson said.

To date, Cleveland State University is the only Ohio college to require vaccines for students living on campus.

When asked about financial woes and declining enrollment at OU, DeWine, a graduate of rival Miami University, praised the institution, which is on track to introduce the smallest freshman class in decades while its competitors project gains.

He said that the decline in students attending OU is the result of fewer high school graduates, a claim university leaders had made for years but have since backed away from as more reliable projections have become available.

“I have great faith in Ohio University. Ohio University plays a huge role in the state, in the country, certainly in this region. That will continue,” DeWine said.

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