Lanthorn Editorial Board asks, “Does GVSU need a vaccine mandate?”

GVL / Courtesy - Metro Connection

GVL / Courtesy – Metro Connection

Update: Aug. 4, 2021. 

Some faculty at GVSU have developed a petition directed towards President Mantella, requesting a COVID-19 vaccine mandate. If you are inclined, you can read it and sign here:

Right as things start to feel like they are going in the direction of a pre-pandemic life, an increase in COVID-19 cases is starting to force government and health officials to make changes to previously loosened regulations.

The Delta variant is one of the main causes for concern as it has been identified in all 50 states. This uptick in cases has been reminiscent of the beginning of the pandemic with mask mandates and frequent quarantining. However, unlike the early waves of COVID-19, we are not defenseless. 

Data has shown that each vaccine has a high efficiency rate, with the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines proving to be the most effective. Now that these vaccines have become available for a majority of the college-aged population, the University’s ability to go back to normal seems to depend on student’s decisions to get vaccinated.

Some Michigan universities have made the decision for students, requiring them to receive the vaccine. University of Michigan’s vaccine mandate even applies to students who work and learn remotely and is providing limited religious and medical exemptions. GVSU has not yet set a vaccine mandate for students, however, they have repeatedly encouraged students to get vaccinated in email updates.

According to a May 2021 study from the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, just under 47.5% of the college students surveyed were hesitant to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, and according to GVSU’s COVID-19 Data Dashboard, only 53.1% of students report being fully vaccinated. However, reaching herd immunity likely necessitates an 80% vaccination rate, and in order to achieve that number, it may be necessary for GVSU to institute a mandate.

Many, including German Lopez at Vox, have adopted a common framework, talking about vaccine hesitancy as a spectrum. The continuum ranges from aggressive anti-vaxxers, who refuse to get vaccinated on an ideological basis, to indifferent people who would get vaccinated if they had to, but haven’t had the time or the opportunity. 

Despite the fact that, in a study from the journal Politics, Groups, and Identities, 22% of Americans will self-identify as anti-vaxxers, it’s possible that we will be able to reach the desired 80% vaccination rate without vaccinations being required by GVSU leadership, as some people who identify as anti-vax might be less extreme in their beliefs as others. But waiting for anti-vax students to change their minds removes the university’s agency, and its ability to protect other students. 

At present, the absence of a vaccine mandate asks students and faculty to guess who is and who isn’t vaccinated, trying to make deductions based on limited evidence, like who is wearing, or not wearing, a mask. A policy that requires students and faculty to receive the COVID-19 vaccine would enable the GVSU community to assume that everyone who can get vaccinated has been. 

But students, faculty and university leadership might not want to leave a possible outbreak, and a return to remote learning, to chance; and a strategy for avoiding that risk, implemented by other Michigan Universities, is issuing a vaccine mandate.