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Fred Kowal: Vaccinations Key To Safe Return To Campus In Fall

Since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, UUP has focused on keeping our members, our students and our communities safe from COVID-19, which has taken more than 600,000 lives nationally—and 53,000 lives in New York state alone.

At first, our initiatives centered on protecting our members from contracting COVID.

In March 2020, as the pandemic began to take hold, UUP negotiated a telecommuting agreement with SUNY that allowed non-essential employees to work remotely—which removed thousands of our members from potential exposure to coronavirus.

Three months later, UUP demanded COVID-19 testing, contact tracing, mask-wearing and social distancing mandates for students and on-campus faculty and staff—months before any other educational union issued such guidelines. And we worked closely with SUNY to make those guidelines mandatory.

To support our members on the frontlines of the pandemic at  SUNY’s public teaching hospitals in Brooklyn, Stony Brook and Syracuse, our union purchased and sent them tens of thousands of surgical gowns, N-95 masks, gloves and other personal protective equipment. We’re still fighting for hazard pay for these dedicated employees.

And once a COVID-19 vaccine became available late last year, UUP began what is now a 7-month push to urge our members to get vaccinated.

In January, we aggressively advocated to make on-campus SUNY employees eligible for the vaccine as part of the state’s vaccination plan, after the governor initially excluded thousands of SUNY employees who work on campus. We succeeded in March.

Last month, we launched VaxUpUUP, our social media campaign to urge our members and their families—and especially those who haven’t gotten vaccinated—to roll up their sleeves and get the shot.

Why? Because we believe in the vaccine, which has been proven safe and extremely effective against COVID. We know that our members who are vaccinated will be safe from COVID when they return to campus in the fall. And that will make our campuses safer for everyone. Our goal is to get as many SUNY faculty and staff as possible vaccinated when classes start for the Fall semester.  

Many of our members already got the message. In a recent UUP survey, more than 90 percent of our members who responded reported that they have been vaccinated. That’s great news.

I said this before, but it’s worth repeating: If everyone who’s physically able gets the vaccine, we can put COVID behind us for good. There is nothing more important than ensuring that our students, our members and our communities are protected and safe.

Then we can get back to living our lives. And that’s something we all can agree on.

Dr. Fred Kowal is President of the 35,000 member United University Professions, which represents faculty on 29 New York State Campuses. UUP is an affiliate of NYSUT, The American Federation of Teachers, The National Education Association and the AFL-CIO.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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