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Former Gov. Thompson talks COVID-19 vaccines and returning to in-person classes at UW

TMJ4's Charles Benson asks the former HHS Secretary about vaccine hesitancy.
Posted at 6:35 PM, Mar 22, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-22 19:35:37-04

Tommy Thompson these days is the interim President of the UW System, a job that combines skills from his previous positions as a four-term elected governor and Secretary of Health and Human Services.

TMJ4's Charles Benson: "When fall comes around, do you expect most students will be in class, in person?"

Thompson: "We want 75% of our students in person, in class on all of our campuses, and I'm absolutely certain we are going to comply with that."

Thompson says 75% is actually pre-pandemic levels as online classes continue to grow. He joined Gov. Tony Evers to tour the new COVID-19 vaccine clinic at UW-Milwaukee as access and availability expand on Monday.

"That's the new university: solve problems, be there to help Wisconsin and help Wisconsin grow, " said Thompson.

Thompson believes getting UW schools to pivot during the pandemic to provide testing and now vaccines helped the state fight the virus.

Thompson: "I stood up a testing regiment in the state of Wisconsin that was copied by other universities, but was also endorsed by the federal government which gave us over $60 million to test in the community."

Benson: "Was that a hard sell?"

Thompson: "Of course it was - because we were the only ones to get it."

The former Republican governor, who turns 80 in November, is now fully vaccinated. But he sees polling that suggests Republicans are more skeptical than Democrats of the vaccine.

Benson: "There seems to be a large number of Republicans who are reluctant or hesitant to get the vaccine. Why?"

Thompson: "I think it's a lot of things. We are a split nation, in a split state."

But as a former public health advocate at HHS, Thompson doesn't buy the skepticism. He has one answer when anyone asks if the vaccine is safe.

"I say I was there. I know the FDA, they will not approve a vaccine that's not safe," said Thompson. "You can bet on it. It's a safe vaccine and you should take it."

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