Freshman OrientVaccination

Over 100 colleges will require students to get their COVID-19 vaccine, and for the sake of their surrounding communities, more should follow suit.

Rutgers+University+was+one+of+the+first+schools+in+the+country+to+announce+it+would+require+COVID-19+vaccinations+for+students.

photo courtesy of Rutgers University

Rutgers University was one of the first schools in the country to announce it would require COVID-19 vaccinations for students.

When I received an email from my future college last week about COVID-19 vaccinations, I felt an immediate sense of relief. The message informed me that all students would be required to be vaccinated before they could step foot on campus this fall and that there would be no religious, and very few medical, exceptions.

I thought about what normal life used to look like. Not having to worry about getting quarantined. No constant transitions between remote and in-person learning. No incessant concern about getting sick or spreading the virus to my loved ones. 

For my own sanity, in addition to the obvious public health benefits, a universal vaccine requirement makes sense to me, and it’s exciting to think that a somewhat traditional school year is only months away. 

Since the start of the pandemic, over 660,000 coronavirus cases have been tied to American colleges or universities. Most large schools have been COVID-19 hotspots at least a few times since classes began last fall, and many have had to temporarily suspend in-person classes or enact mass quarantine protocols due to dangerous rises in cases.

COVID has made the college experience complicated, messy, and frustrating, which is why the vaccine has the capability to play such a crucial role in managing the virus. As of the end of April, over 100 colleges across the country have announced that they will require students to be vaccinated in order to attend in-person classes this fall.

graphic courtesy of the New York Times

For private institutions, like the college I’m attending, it may seem a little easier to implement such a mandate, but, according to legal precedent, public universities are well within their rights to require vaccinations. In fact, Rutgers, a public university in New Jersey, was one of the first schools in the country to announce it would require students to be vaccinated.

The only problem, it seems, is that coronavirus vaccines in the United States have only received emergency use authorization, as opposed to full FDA approval, which could be considered a loophole. For example, California’s public university systems recently announced it would not require students to be vaccinated until the vaccines get that full approval. 

Some schools have taken a stance somewhere in the middle and are offering incentives like no mandatory weekly COVID tests, free prizes, and raffle tickets to students who choose to get inoculated.

Following in higher education’s footsteps, many experts believe it is entirely possible that public K-12 schools mandate the vaccine for students who are old enough to get it. At the very least, they should be able to make it a requirement for students who want to attend in-person classes. However, public schools may have to offer more medical and religious exceptions. 

North Allegheny has already begun facilitating vaccine appointments for NASH students 16 and older.

Like I mentioned before, I am glad my college will require the vaccine. It makes me feel safer, and it’s my best chance at a normal freshman year. Not to mention, it just seems like the logical choice. We’re in a pandemic. People are getting sick. We have a solution to said pandemic. Let’s use it.

It’s an extenuating circumstance, and lives are at risk, so colleges and universities have every right to adjust their requirements for the wellbeing of their students.”

I’m not trying to be unsympathetic to people who are genuinely worried about getting the vaccine. I believe in science, and I trust the doctors around the world who say it is completely safe. It’s also important to note that, while the COVID-19 vaccine is new, it is based on mRNA technology that scientists have been studying for years. The vaccine is safe and effective.

But I know that it can still be scary. The past fourteen months have been scary. I don’t think preaching to people who don’t trust the science that they’re foolish is going to help convince them. Vaccine hesitancy often does not stem from malice, but rather from fear, so simply screaming that the vaccine is safe and that people need to get over their concerns, no matter how unfounded they may be, isn’t going to work. When it comes to education and awareness, we need to meet people where they are.

I can also understand people who say that getting the vaccine is a personal choice that institutions should have no say over, and, if this were another scenario, I might even agree. Personal liberty and choice are at the foundation of American culture.

However, all institutions have rules we have to follow if we want to attend, and no one is forcing anyone to pursue a degree at a certain school. The concepts of a free economy and private business are also hallmarks of this country. 

Besides, the vaccine may be one of the few cases where it doesn’t even matter. At some point, we all need to just face the fact that this is a global health crisis. No one is completely safe from this virus until we all are. It’s an extenuating circumstance, and lives are at risk, so colleges and universities have every right to adjust their requirements for the wellbeing of their students.

I wish I didn’t have to worry about how anyone else was handling COVID-19 vaccinations, and I suppose, to some extent, I don’t. I can go to my college and feel safe and satisfied and happy.

But when it comes to public health, we just can’t say to each their own. We have to care, and we have to hold each other accountable. Our actions affect the people and communities around us.

That’s why more institutions should require vaccines. As a nation, we have a much greater chance of returning to normalcy if we have a higher percentage of the population inoculated, and encouraging young people, like college students, to get vaccinated is an effective way to make some meaningful progress, even if that encouragement feels less like a suggestion and more like an order.