A sign directs students to a COVID testing and vaccine clinic operated by the Louisiana National Guard Monday, August 16, 2021, at Burke-Hawthorne Hall on the UL-Lafayette campus in Lafayette, La.

Fewer than half of University of Louisiana at Lafayette students have been vaccinated by this week, according to a statement issued Wednesday afternoon, but the university expects most students will be in good standing by the time registration rolls around.

UL Lafayette spokesman Eric Maron said 7,144 students, 47%, were fully vaccinated for COVID-19 or had received one shot by Tuesday, while 1,588 students had submitted exemptions to the vaccine requirements that were issued by the state Department of Health. All of those students have met the requirements to be cleared for registration for winter session or spring semester by completing the mandated process.

The Health Department issued its vaccination ruling, listing COVID-19 as a mandatory vaccination, on Aug. 23. That was after the Food and Drug Administration declared that the Pfizer vaccine had cleared all required safety hurdles. The Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines were also OK’d.

The UL administration said that week that students would have to be vaccinated or submit approved waivers before they could be enrolled for classes for the winter session and spring semester. Registration starts Nov. 1.

Students could meet the mandate’s requirement by submitting a doctor’s statement saying they should not take the vaccine because of health reasons. Or, students have the right to submit a form that says they had personal reasons for not taking the vaccine.

UL said the deadline for submitting the form was Sept. 20. That gave students time to take both doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines or the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which is administered but once.

UL Lafayette President E. Joseph Savoie said in his State of the University speech Wednesday that 80 percent of faculty and staff had taken the vaccine. He also noted that two on-campus campaigns to urge students to take the vaccine had received widespread acclaim. Students who took at least one dose of the vaccine qualified for a $100 gift card from the state. The vaccine is offered free on campus. Gov. John Bel Edwards announced that gift card program Aug. 13 and visited UL the following week to tout its use.

On Sept. 17, the university said 1,284 UL Lafayette students were among Louisiana students who had activated their cards. 

“The hurricanes have not helped in terms of the target. We had hoped to have 75,000 cards used by the end of the calendar year, as the governor was challenging us to do,” Ramesh Kolluru,vice president of research, innovation and economic development, said.

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Hurricane Ida, which made landfall in Louisiana on Aug. 29, caused campus closures around Louisiana and caused students to flee such campuses as Nicholls State in Thibodaux, University of New Orleans and Southeastern University in Hammond, among others.

The university said in its statement Wednesday that 4,898 students had neither received a single dose of the vaccine nor submitted their waiver forms, while 1,562 students were categorized as “number of students who are in progress.” Maron said “in progess” may indicate compliance with the vaccination mandate but with paperwork in progress.

Dual enrollment students are not required to provide vaccination information to the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, Maron said.

UL students who talked with The Acadiana Advocate when the mandate was announced presented mixed views on the vaccine. Most said they don’t believe vaccinations should be mandatory.

On Wednesday, a nursing student preparing for clinicals filed a lawsuit against the university and Ochsner Lafayette General over vaccine requirements.

Mia Bourg, an Erath resident enrolled in UL's nursing program, filed the lawsuit Wednesday in the 15th Judicial District Court in Lafayette through her attorney L. Shaun Trahan.

The lawsuit alleges the hospital system's employee vaccine mandate, which provides exemptions only for verified religious or medical reasons, differs from the university's vaccine policy that allows students to opt out for any reason, provided it is documented in writing.

"The whole basis of the suit was just protecting the due process for this individual as a student," Trahan said in a Wednesday phone call. "I think it could impact other nursing schools because according to the revised statute, all students that attend universities have that right to file an exemption."

The Louisiana Illuminator reported Tuesday that student vaccination rates among the nine UL System campuses ranged from a low of 24 percent at McNeese State in Lake Charles to a high of 76 percent at the University of Louisiana at Monroe. UL Lafayette ranked sixth among the nine campuses for student vaccinations.

UL System campuses include McNeese, UL Lafayette, Nicholls, Southeastern Louisiana, University of New Orleans, Northwestern State, Grambling, Louisiana Tech and ULM.

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