Should WC require students to receive COVID-19 vaccine before returning to campus in the fall?

By Alaina Perdon

Elm Staff Writer

If there is any hope in ending the COVID-19 pandemic, public health experts agree it lies in vaccination. Dr. Anthony Fauci predicts over 80% of the adult population of the United States must receive the coronavirus vaccine to significantly slow the virus’s spread. According to The New York Times, just under 17% of the population, about 56.1 million people, have been fully vaccinated as of April 1, 2021. 

As educational institutions plan for the start of their next academic term, it is imperative that they consider a protocol for student vaccinations. Communal housing and shared dining facilities, as well as the social nature of the college environment, places university students at a heightened risk. 

To lessen the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic on campus, Washington College should require all returning students to be fully vaccinated before setting foot on campus next August, save for those with medical exemptions.

Rutgers University in New Jersey is the first school to require their students to receive COVID-19 vaccines before arriving for in-person instruction. While pushback is inevitable when such a large decision is made, Rutgers Executive Vice President Antonio Calcado explained the reception by the college community has been largely positive.

“We have students and families that are ecstatic that we are requiring this because they feel that their son or daughter or loved one is going to be that much safer as they come to college,” Calcado said in an interview with Elizabeth Redden of Inside Higher Ed.

While getting a vaccine does not guarantee an individual will not contract the COVID-19 virus or spread it to others, vaccines are currently the best line of defense we have. Requiring students to be vaccinated before returning to campus is the best way to ensure a safe reopening.

I elected to remain home this semester to avoid potentially contributing to the spread of disease on campus or in the surrounding community, and fully intend to get vaccinated well before returning for in-person activity in the fall. I would feel all the more comfortable returning to the College if I had the assurance that my peers took the same action to protect my life as well as their own. 

Opposition to the Rutgers announcement, and the notion of mandating vaccines in schools in general, comes largely from individuals who believe mandatory vaccines are an infringement on their rights. The ability to participate in college campus life is not a right, but a privilege contingent upon an individual’s willingness to conduct themselves in a manner that promotes the overall wellbeing of the community. While the COVID-19 vaccine protects the recipient most of all, a vaccinated community is ultimately safer.

Moreover, mandatory vaccination for students is not a novel concept. From kindergartens to major universities, a majority of schools in the U.S. require students to be vaccinated against a number of preventable diseases — like the flu, which all WC students were required to be vaccinated against before returning this fall — before enrollment. 

“I think [Rutgers is] comfortable with the legal authority supporting this policy, and I think they are totally right,” George Washington University professor of health policy Tony Yang said. “Colleges and universities do routinely require vaccines, such as MMR [measles, mumps and rubella], and chickenpox. I do not see why the COVID-19 vaccine would not be put within the same category. Under the existing federal statutes and case law, colleges and universities have a broad discretion to require vaccination as a condition of a full return to campus.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s School Vaccination page, it is particularly crucial that students in residential schools, like WC, receive vaccines because of the fast pace at which a virus can spread in communal living facilities. The viral meningitis vaccine is required at most colleges and universities in the U.S., including WC.

An issue that arises when asking students to get vaccinated before returning is that not every community has equal access to vaccines. International students may not have access to the types of vaccine currently approved for use in the U.S., and students living in marginalized or remote communities may lack access to vaccine sites. To overcome this, the College should continue to pursue the opportunity to distribute vaccines on campus, ensuring equal opportunities for all students.

Taking these actions are among the first steps to safely regaining normalcy in our beloved campus community.

Students can falsify the health data they enter into their Emocha app each day. Students can ignore campus restrictions and violate social distancing policies. Requiring students to show proof of immunization against the COVID-19 virus is the only way to be certain they are actually taking action to prevent the transmission of the virus in the College community, and the best way to avoid a health crisis should we return to full in-person instruction in the fall. 

Featured Photo caption: In order to remain on campus, WC students must be tested for the COVID-19 virus on a biweekly basis. Photo by Marah Vain-Callahan.

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