Should Colleges Mandate Covid-19 Vaccines?

By Moriah Rivera-Lawrence and The LBCC Civil Discourse Program

Should the Covid-19 vaccine be mandated for students to return to class?  Colleges across the nation are looking for answers before the FDA gives the all-clear and they’re able to make the final decision. Mandating the Covid-19 vaccine is an essential part of the return to classrooms post-Covid. This can be shown in the high level of efficacy and safety associated with the new vaccines, student engagement, and resource accessibility. 

First, let’s look at the data behind the efficacy and safety of the Covid-19 vaccines. A coronavirus-based pandemic was not a surprise to scientists, who were already researching and attempting vaccine prototypes over 20 years before the Covid-19 pandemic began. Quickly customizing old prototypes to new Covid-19 spike proteins allowed for a quick path to safe vaccines. These vaccines reduce the spread of Covid-19 and reduce the likelihood of severe illness or death.

This is still shown to be true even in the case that one does become a breakthrough case and catch Covid-19 even with the high level of protection from the vaccine. These vaccines also contribute to creating herd immunity more effectively and safely than the effects of natural immunity.  John Hopkins Medicine reports no serious safety concerns and shows that all approved vaccines are effective in preventing serious illness and death. An Oxford study shows a much higher risk of blood clots and cerebral veinous thrombosis from Covid itself than any Covid vaccine, including Johnson and Johnson. 

Second, to understand what a vaccine mandate looks like, we must look towards Oregon law. One can seek a medical, religious, or philosophical exemption from a vaccine requirement set by a school. While vaccination may not be able to be strictly required to attend essential classes and lectures in Oregon, colleges may be able to mandate vaccination to attend non-essential events, field trips, or extracurriculars. This can encourage students and faculty to take the leap and get vaccinated to participate.

Why even mandate the vaccine if many are hesitant, and they can be philosophically exempt anyway? Vaccine mandates can offer more relaxed social distancing guidelines in some areas on-campus and allow for more normal college experiences for those who have been vaccinated. 

UC San Diego plans on having a bustling campus this fall, with an expected 90% of students and 85% of staff vaccinated by fall quarter, they are able to have in-person classes and live on-campus again. 

Third, mandating vaccination can allow for people to return to campus and receive the assistance they already critically needed pre-pandemic from the food bank, accessibility office, counseling center, and much more. In the summer of 2020, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported the unemployment rate among 20 to 24 year-olds went from 9 percent to 26 percent. This clearly shows a need for access to resources for many college-age people, and soon. Vaccine mandates can increase accessibility so much for those who would be doing without otherwise. 

Putting a mandate in place encourages the use of a highly safe and effective vaccine, and allows schools to more easily manage vaccine requirements at non-essential events to allow for more normal student experiences and access to resources sooner. This helps students back to campus, and colleges back to business by using the same method of vaccine mandate we already have in place. 

By Christopher Harris, Mark Munoz and The LBCC Civil Discourse Program

With society shifting towards a state of “normalcy,” students returning to in-person classes for the fall is a hot topic. This return to business as usual leads us to an impasse: should the Covid-19 vaccine be mandatory for students to return to campus?

In reality, requiring vaccines for college students to return to campus would cause more harm than good. The perspective of a vaccine providing protection might lead some to ask: “Won’t mandatory vaccinations help people feel safe and increase enrollment?’  Of course this question would prove true for some. However, there are some interesting findings when examining young people’s attitudes about vaccinations.  According to a recent Pew Research Poll, only 60% of US adults between the ages of 18-29 say they have already received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccination or will probably, or definitely, get vaccinated to prevent COVID-19 in the future. That means roughly four in ten people in this age range will probably not, or will not, get the vaccine.  Forbidding those who choose not to get vaccinated from coming to campus could have a negative impact on enrollment and revenue.  This in turn could lead to tuition increases as well cuts to college programs and services.

This brings up another question: “How are colleges and universities going to verify who has been vaccinated?”  According to the Wall Street Journal, millions of Americans have little more than a cardboard card to prove they have been vaccinated.  Most of us know a tech-savvy individual who can easily photoshop a card for you.  If not, a quick search on Reddit (or parts of the dark web) will connect you to people who are willing to manufacture fake vaccine cards.  In the end, we are left with the honor system for colleges to identify who has been vaccinated.

Lastly, “What are the long-term effects of these vaccines?” Short answer, we don’t know. The particular case of the Johnson & Johnson recent vaccine pause comes to mind. The reporting of rare, but severe blood clotting present in patients who received the J&J vaccine are perhaps only the beginning of side effects. Although extensive monitoring is being done, there is no way for us to know what may happen in relation to this vaccine. So, by requiring it are we truly protecting our students? Perhaps. But could we be potentially harming our students? Just as likely. In a population where we have seen very little risk of hospitalization or death, how do we justify requiring communities to be vaccinated? Herd immunity? With one in four adults, not willing to get the vaccination, we are a far cry from herd immunity.

So, what do we do? We may mandate something that could alienate future applicants or even harm our students. The clearer path would be to make vaccines optional, and trust in our students to do what they feel is right for them and the community.  After all the true philosophy of education is to create critical thinkers, is it not?

Get involved with the conversation at the LBCC Civil Discourse Program’s Whiteboard!

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