When I had an opportunity to become vaccinated against COVID-19 last spring, I didn’t hesitate. The vaccine clearly was the best way for me to protect myself and the people I care about from death or hospitalization due to COVID. I was also eager to do my part to help our society beat back this insidious disease.
Knowing I was vaccinated was a huge relief. Even if I got COVID, the chances were high that my symptoms would be mild, and I’d come out the other side in good shape. That is important given my current role as president of the University of Wisconsin System, a job that has required in-person meetings, travel, and occasional group gatherings.
At that time, I thought everyone would be like me, ready to jump at the chance to get vaccinated. Sadly, that has not turned out to be the case. Barely 50 percent of Wisconsin residents have completed their vaccination series – despite widespread availability of the vaccine.
As president of the University of Wisconsin System, I believe the surge in the delta variant is the biggest challenge we face in the upcoming fall semester. Vaccines are our best bet to provide a college experience that students deserve and parents expect. To make it easier for our campus communities as well as the general public, vaccination hubs were established at our universities throughout the state to expand access.
As the former Secretary of Health and Human Services, I have seen firsthand how vaccines are developed and tested. Operation Warp Speed helped produce a vaccine in short order, a tremendous medical and technological achievement. But it was not rushed, as some have contended, and the science behind it was years in the making. The clinical trials were rigorous and thorough.
As Wisconsin’s longest-serving governor, I know every inch of this state, and I don’t ever want us to be in a position again where we are forced to shut down our restaurants and bars, cancel sporting events and concerts, and see our hospitals overrun with severely sick and dying patients. The only way to get back to the normalcy of pre-pandemic life is to make sure enough of us are vaccinated against the virus.
Finally, as a grandparent of nine, I feel we owe it to future generations to sideline this disease. Over the years, vaccines have been extraordinarily effective at protecting generations against diseases like smallpox, polio, measles, mumps, rubella, and whooping cough. If not for vaccines, these diseases would kill millions. Letting this COVID-19 virus mutate in unvaccinated populations will allow it to perpetuate, unless we take steps now to prevent that.
None of these arguments is novel. But maybe some of you who remain unsure just need a little nudge, a little reminder of what we’re facing right now – a record number of children hospitalized with COVID, 84 percent of U.S. counties seeing high rates of community transmission, nearly 620,000 deaths nationwide. It doesn’t have to be that way. There is no better way to smash COVID than to get as many people vaccinated as possible. Vax up!
The University of Wisconsin System serves approximately 165,000 students. Awarding nearly 37,000 degrees annually, the UW System is Wisconsin’s talent pipeline, putting graduates in position to increase their earning power, contribute to their communities, and make Wisconsin a better place to live. Nearly 90 percent of in-state UW System graduates stay in Wisconsin five years after earning a degree. The UW System provides a 23:1 return on state investment. UW System institutions also contribute to the richness of Wisconsin’s culture and economy with groundbreaking research, new companies and patents, and boundless creative intellectual energy.