UC Berkeley joins Biden administration’s COVID-19 College Vaccine Challenge

photo of president Joe Biden
Gage Skidmore/Creative Commons
President Joe Biden discussed ways to achieve his goal of partially vaccinating 70% of adults by July 4 in a speech June 2 and launched the COVID-19 College Vaccine Challenge on Thursday. (Photo by Gage Skidmore under CC BY-SA 2.0.)

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Last Thursday, President Joe Biden launched the COVID-19 College Vaccine Challenge in hopes of vaccinating more college-aged Americans.

More than 300 universities, including UC Berkeley and eight other UC campuses, joined the challenge as of Tuesday, according to the White House website. A U.S. Department of Education press release stated that universities can participate in the initiative by pledging to encourage their students, staff and faculty to get immunized.

The challenge is only one part of Biden’s nationwide vaccination campaign. 

In a speech delivered June 2, Biden outlined strategies to achieve his goal of partially vaccinating 70% of adults by July 4, according to a transcript of a briefing from the White House website.

Biden’s speech, which discussed the importance of different strategies such as walk-up appointments and vaccine lotteries, comes during an overall slump in U.S. vaccination rates.

According to The Washington Post’s vaccination progress tracker, immunizations peaked in mid-April with about 3 million Americans being vaccinated per day, compared to only 1 million during the past few weeks.

In addition, a poll published May 28 by the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit that studies public health issues, found that 13% of Americans are refusing to get vaccinated, while another 12% are taking a “wait and see” approach.

“With 73% of Americans over the age of 40 with one shot … we especially need people under 40 to step up,” Biden said in his speech. “Over 40 is doing much better.”

Yet with a proposed COVID-19 vaccine mandate, the challenge may not be a big change for UC Berkeley.

John Swartzberg, a campus clinical professor emeritus of public health, sees the challenge as a statement of solidarity with other universities. 

“UC Berkeley has been doing all these things that the challenge calls for,” Swartzberg said. “I don’t think the challenge really is going to prompt UC Berkeley to do anything that it wouldn’t have done otherwise.”

According to the University Health Services vaccination dashboard, 34.9% of undergraduate students and 46.4% of graduate students have been fully vaccinated. Additionally, 50.8% of faculty and staff have received a full dose. These numbers include vaccines administered by health services and those voluntarily self-reported.

Statewide, 55.2% of the adult population is fully vaccinated, including 56.4% of Alameda County as of Tuesday, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention vaccination tracker.

While the challenge may not prompt UC Berkeley to do anything new in its vaccination efforts, Swartzberg emphasized the importance of nationwide unity.

“The solidarity that we’re having with the country and government will have a major statement,” Swartzberg said. “That’s the value of UC Berkeley’s participation.”

Vani Suresh and Nadia Farjami also contributed to this report.

Contact Riley Cooke and Tristan Shaughnessy at [email protected].