Letter to the Editor: GV vaccine mandate calls community to take action

GVL / Courtesy - Metro Connection

GVL / Courtesy – Metro Connection

George Lutz

Dear GVSU community,

A Letter to the Editor was published in the Lanthorn on Sept. 20 calling into question the vaccine requirements that the university has released. Seeing as the deadline has passed, the dissent is worth recognizing, and the Lanthorn editors themselves asked for a dialogue to be started, I have decided to do just that. Nobody asked me specifically, of course, but being in a community sometimes means duties are required of us, even ones we don’t like and never asked for.

Let’s lay out some of the terms of the dissent. Most college-age students are not personally at risk of major illness from the current pandemic. Even in the case that students get the vaccine they still may carry and spread the virus to some extent. Thus, the imposition of a vaccine mandate is, in the best case, disproportionate to the risk.

What of the statistics cited? That 19 through 22-year-old’s represent less than 1% of deaths to coronavirus? Well, point taken, except for the fact that the campus is home to many folks not in that age range for whom we need to take responsibility as well. Though it is hard to gather evidence on this point, there is reason to believe that vaccinations do reduce the rate of spread of coronavirus, as vaccinations have done for other diseases in the past. Furthermore, 1% or so of students at risk are also worth protecting, especially at no real cost to ourselves.

But what about the supposed lack of individual risk and the capacity for us to be both carriers and spreaders too? Take the example of drunk driving. If you grew up the way I did, you have certainly seen folks drink in excess and drive as if they were limo drivers. But we don’t have drunk driving laws in place for those who may miraculously, or even expectedly, have the capacity not to cause injury to others.

We have those laws in place because we just can’t know whether you’re a drunk phenom or incapacitated from your first sip of box wine, and we shouldn’t risk your safety, or that of others, on the basis that “I’m likely okay.”

Yes, you’re probably safe from COVID-19 without a vaccine, maybe most of us are, but we have absolutely no assurance that it’s actually the case, and we have a much more certain way of reducing the risk of being wrong.

If I’m wrong, and coronavirus is no real threat to our community, then all of us will have gotten the shot and almost certainly be just fine. But if you’re wrong, and coronavirus represents a significant threat to members of our community that could be strongly mitigated by near-total vaccination, then folks may well suffer and die as a result of inaction.

Being in a community imposes certain duties on us. We don’t get the freedom to choose these duties, but we too often exercise the “freedom” to ignore them. In cases like that our institutions step in, they impose those duties upon us or otherwise punish us for ignoring them. I don’t like it, and the dissenters here sure don’t either, but what we like matters very little in this case. This pandemic brought illness to our communities, but it also brought new duties. I support the vaccine mandate, along with reasonable accommodations to religious and medical exemptions, and I hope to see our community take active measures to protect even just 1% of us.

Wishing you all good health,

George Lutz