Should the University make the COVID-19 vaccine mandatory?

Trevor Gulock, Staff Writer

Rutgers University is one of the first universities to announce a mandatory COVID-19 vaccination requirement for the 2021 fall semester, for this statement gave their reason in doing so: “data clearly reflects that students have a 60 percent to 70 percent higher positivity rate than faculty and staff. This is to be expected since they are highly mobile and highly interactive.” 

Since the inception of the novel coronavirus, higher education institutions have been fraught with the challenge of keeping their students safe. While many turned to fully remote learning, others brought students back to campus by implementing regular COVID-19 testing, face-covering requirements, and social distancing policies. Fortunately, the United States has become closer to achieving herd immunity (thanks to the Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines) and looks forward to a post-COVID future. Colleges are relying on the vaccine to return campus to normal, but does that mean the vaccine should be required for students? And similarly, why are colleges willing to mandate what other companies and organizations will not? 

So far as many as 17 colleges and universities, including Princeton, Cornell, Yale and American, are requiring a COVID-19 vaccination for students returning to campus in the fall of 2021. Higher education has a history of requiring vaccinations for students. In fact, the University’s Student Health Center requires vaccination for a number of other contagious diseases. As per the Rutgers University statement, with general college student life being “highly mobile and highly interactive,” the general consensus of universities nationwide has deemed it necessary to vaccinate against diseases such as Chickenpox and Tuberculosis. With this precedent, many universities see it best to add COVID-19 to the list. The move is a security measure to prevent students congregating in dorms or attending parties from catching and spreading COVID-19. Accordingly, American University President Sylvia Burwell says that requiring vaccinations is necessary for the “[expansion] activities and interactions that enrich the educational, research, and social experiences that are fundamental to AU.” 

Although these vaccines are proven to reduce the spread and prevent serious hospitalization from COVID-19, many students and parents claim that this is a breach of privacy. Harvard contends that the two most common reasons why students are reluctant to receive the vaccine is due to inaccessibility and distrust within the science and industry distributing the vaccine. Many of the universities rolling out the mandate have included clauses for students with religious or medical implications to be exempt, although the inclusion of such is seen as a “legal and logistical nightmare.” Other states, such as Florida and Texas are pushing back at these mandates, banning any semblance of a “vaccine passport.” Therefore, many colleges and universities who have not made the move are waiting for state or student body movement to gauge whether vaccination should be mandatory or not.

So far, University of North Carolina and University of Oregon have already announced they will not be requiring a COVID-19 vaccination in the fall, largely due to pushback from their respective governors. Despite this, many universities are providing incentives and accessibility to vaccination for students. The University is offering exemptions to travel ban policies, quarantine regulation and sequential testing to those who have been vaccinated. Other colleges are going as far to offer financial incentives to those who have received the vaccination come the Fall semester – occasioning a debate on whether such measures are ethical or even necessary. The push to implement COVID-19 vaccination policies in higher education may push other industries to also require it, but still making the vaccination mandatory can be financially, legally and ethically murky. For my Alma Mater, I will respect the wait to make the vaccination mandatory, if it so chooses.

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