As the vaccine mandate deadline nears, new questions arise

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GVL / Katherine Vasile

Lanthorn Editorial Board

According to Grand Valley State University’s Data Dashboard, there are currently 86 active cases of COVID-19 in the GVSU community, including two faculty, six staff, and five on-campus student cases. But those numbers may begin to rise. 

Days after the first GVSU football game of the season, and a week after students returned from their Labor Day excursions, COVID-conscious members of the Grand Valley State University community might be wondering where the numbers are going and what the consequences will be. 

One of the best safeguards against cases skyrocketing, and the Virus Action Team subsequently raising the alert level (which is currently at Level 2), is the GVSU community achieving herd immunity. Over 80% of the GVSU community needs to be vaccinated to achieve herd immunity, and students and faculty must be vaccinated by Sept. 30. However, as of Sept. 9, only 68.65% of students have self-reported receiving the vaccine.

As the community approaches the Sept. 30 deadline, the remaining 32% of unvaccinated students will hopefully attend one of GVSU’s upcoming vaccine events on Sept 20 and 23. After the deadline has passed, unvaccinated individuals will be subject to weekly COVID tests. But there are students who won’t need to be vaccinated by the deadline; students seeking a medical exemption or a religious exemption. 

The religious exemptions to vaccine mandates have been a topic of national debate, with the New York Times interviewing someone who cited the research around COVID-19 treatments and vaccines that involved cell lines produced from a fetus that was aborted decades ago. (But, as an Oct. 2020 article from the Times points out, Trump received– and praised– those treatments when he contracted COVID-19.) 

The Lanthorn interviewed a student seeking the religious exemption, and they cited their family’s lack of belief in vaccines in general. But Curtis Chang, a former pastor and a guest-essayist from the Times, argues that religious freedom allows a person to exempt themselves from engaging in worship or practice that they don’t believe in; religious freedom doesn’t allow someone to endanger others by spreading a dangerous disease throughout their community. 

Among the various concerns leading to GVSU student’s requests for a religious exemption is the fear of infertility from the vaccine. This has been brought up on the GVSU Anti-Vax Facebook page by women who are worried about their ability to become pregnant after receiving the COVID-19 vaccine. However, this claim has been disproven by experts who have stated that there is no plausible reason to suspect that the vaccine affects fertility.

While the news of GVSU’s vaccine mandate was exciting to hear– the Lanthorn argued for a mandate in August, before it was announced– as the deadline nears, several disheartening details come into focus. 

The consequences of being unvaccinated after Sept. 30 aren’t as strict as they are at other universities, and members of the GVSU community seeking exemptions are citing, or might be citing, contested and disproven arguments. In the coming weeks, the university should be increasing the pressure on the unvaccinated, and students should start taking it upon themselves to ask their friends and peers to get vaccinated.