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Should Western require the COVID-19 vaccine for fall 2021?

With no clear word from Western as of now, students and staff share their input on the issue in everyone’s mind

A COVID-19 vaccine being administered in Macau, China on March 5, 2020.
A COVID-19 vaccine being administered in Macau, China on March 5, 2020. Recently, universities have been deciding whether to require the vaccine for students and staff returning to campus in fall 2021. // Photo courtesy of Macau Photo Agency via Unsplash

By Torie Wold

After a long year of remote learning, Western Washington University students are eager to get back into the classroom. As vaccinations continue to roll out across the country, returning to normal routines feels closer than ever. But not if everyone doesn’t do their part. 

Returning to the classroom comes with great responsibility. Due to the infectious nature of the COVID-19 virus, gathering in classrooms can pose a serious threat to the health and safety of students and faculty. If not handled responsibly and with caution, there is always the possibility of outbreaks on campus. 

Whether they receive the vaccine or not, students need to remain diligent about practicing social distancing, mask-wearing and proper sanitation if classes are offered on campus in the fall. This should include strong enforcement by the university, as well as consequences for students who don’t comply with these requirements. 

But the question still remains. Will that be enough to protect students, staff and faculty from spreading the virus?

As talk of the campus’s reopening continues, vaccinations have become the center of the conversation. Many universities, including Rutgers University and Cornell University,  have already announced that they intend to have COVID-19 vaccine mandates, which will require students to be fully vaccinated to return to their campuses in fall 2021. 

Across the nation, the COVID-19 vaccine has become quite a controversial topic. 

According to a study done by Simon Haeder, an assistant professor at Pennsylvania State University, American’s support for COVID-19 vaccination mandates “is consistently lower than support for general vaccination requirements.”

This has posed an interesting challenge for universities, as students, staff and faculty have a wide array of opinions on the topic. 

When asked if COVID-19 vaccinations should be required, second-year biological anthropology major, Alison Keller said she agrees that COVID-19 vaccinations should be required. 

“If we require a measles vaccine, why would a [COVID-19] vaccine be any different?” Keller said.

Staff and faculty voices are also important, as returning to campus also affects their daily lives and can pose a threat to their health.

In an email, the director of Western’s Advancing Excellence and Equity in Science program and retired professor, Joann Otto wrote, “In order to minimize the risk of students and faculty becoming ill with COVID-19, everyone should be vaccinated.”

But some students, staff and faculty still have some hesitations about COVID-19 vaccination requirements and mandates. 

“In the state that they’re in now, I don’t think they should be required,” third-year student Chandler Hines said. “But once the Food and Drug Administration fully clears them, and they are no longer being used under Emergency Use Authorization, absolutely yes they should be required.”

Similarly, Western Political Science professor Brian Thomas shared his views about potential vaccine requirement risks in an email. 

“I think there is real concern about the efficacy of the vaccines that can only be addressed through the acquisition of more data,” Thomas wrote. “So, I think there can be healthy skepticism, principled or otherwise that should not be met yet, through mandatory action. But at some point, there should be a rule requiring a vaccination just as we do with measles and other conditions.”

As of now, all COVID-19 vaccinations are still being used under Emergency Use Authorization by the FDA. This means testing and clinical trials are sped up to be able to expedite the vaccine’s availability to the general public. 

Despite concerns, the FDA remains strong in its statement that even though COVID-19 vaccines are under Emergency Use Authorization they are still “undergoing a rigorous development process that includes tens of thousands of study participants to generate the needed non-clinical, clinical and manufacturing data.”

As schools begin to open back up, it is crucial for institutions to listen to their students and staff and be clear about COVID-19 expectations for returning to campus. 

“For all universities and colleges, it is really paramount that the fall goes smoothly,” Haeder said. “Colleges really need to invest in a strategy to maximize vaccination rates and I think that includes making it really easy providing incentives and informing students.”

As of now, Western has yet to require the COVID-19 vaccine for its students, staff and faculty to return to campus in the fall but instead has continued to strongly encourage them to receive the vaccine. 

Western’s Student Health Center was recently approved by the Department of Health to provide COVID-19 vaccines on campus and is currently finalizing vaccination rollout plans.

In an email, David Hansen, the associate medical director at Western’s Student Health Center wrote, “It is anticipated that the Student Health Center will continue to provide COVID-19 vaccines into the next academic year.” 

In an email, Whatcom County Health Department public information officer, Melissa Morin, strongly encouraged the public to continue following COVID-19 guidelines, such as mask-wearing, social distancing and sanitizing your hands regularly. She also encouraged students, staff and faculty to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.

“It’s important for everyone who’s eligible to get vaccinated as soon as they can, whatever age they are,” Morin wrote. “The sooner we get a majority of the population vaccinated, the sooner we can get back to the things we loved doing before the pandemic struck.” 

Remaining diligent about following COVID-19 guidelines is crucial to returning to the classroom. After a year of the pandemic, the easiest thing to do would be to ease up on following practices, but this is a mindset people must overcome. The pandemic is still here and it is important to act like it. 

Torie Wold (she/her) is an opinions reporter for The Front. She is a second-year student, majoring in Visual Journalism. Her work focuses on creating an open space for students, faculty, and community members to be able to share their experiences and views on current news. You can contact her at toriewold.thefront@gmail.com 

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