As we’ve made it through more than a year of the COVID-19 pandemic, vaccines are now being administered to millions of people. In an effort to build herd immunity and bring us back to normal, Temple should make COVID-19 vaccines mandatory for students, faculty and staff for the safety of everyone on campus and the surrounding North Central community, with exceptions for people with medical conditions or those with religious reasons.
On May 12, Philadelphia expanded COVID-19 vaccine eligibility to include all people ages 12 and older. Temple University should take advantage of expanded vaccine access and mandate vaccines for everyone returning to campus for the Fall 2021 semester, especially because classes will be held primarily in person.
Requiring vaccinations will help reduce the number of infected students and allow for a more enjoyable and safe college experience.
“They’re not only getting vaccinated for themselves, but they’re getting vaccinated for their fellow classmates, and the more we build herd immunity, the better it will be to return for the safety of the community,” said Barbara Little, a nursing professor. “This would help prevent the missed classes people had to go through, socialization, and if students are mandated to get the vaccine, then that would assist us with contact tracing.”
A growing number of colleges and universities are requiring vaccines among students and faculty for the upcoming school year, including other Philadelphia universities like Thomas Jefferson University, Drexel University and the University of Pennsylvania, The Temple News reported.
The current approved COVID-19 vaccines are shown to be incredibly effective in preventing serious infection from several variants of the virus, with the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine having a 95 percent efficacy rate, the Moderna vaccine having a 94.1 percent efficacy rate and the Johnson & Johnson vaccine having a 66.3 percent efficacy rate, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Aimee Palumbo, an assistant epidemiology and biostatistics professor, wants as many people to be vaccinated as possible but is hesitant in advocating for a mandate because the vaccines are still under an emergency use authorization. An EUA is a mechanism granted by the Food and Drug Administration to make medical countermeasures available for use during public health emergencies prior to their approval.
“Obviously I want as many people to be vaccinated as possible, so if there are any positive incentives that we can use to get people there, then I think that would be preferable,” Palumbo said.
In deciding whether to mandate vaccines, Temple should consider the accessibility of vaccination sites near its campus and students’ homes or look to provide vaccines, said Graciela Jaschek, an assistant epidemiology and biostatistics professor.
“I think that vaccines can only be mandatory if Temple offers vaccines to all the students,” Jaschek said.
Little wants people to consider individuals with legitimate reasons for not getting vaccinated, like individuals with immuno-suppressed systems or other conditions that could make receiving the vaccine detrimental to their health, she said. People with compromised immune systems are not able to receive certain vaccines, like those with a live but weakened virus or bacteria.
Even though the COVID-19 vaccine does not contain live virus, people with weakened immune systems may not develop a full immune response to the vaccine, according to the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. Forty-six percent of patients with blood cancers did not produce COVID-19 antibodies after being vaccinated, according to a April 2021 study from the National Center for Biotechnology Information.
Even if vaccines are required, there should be safety measures in place to keep people with immuno-compromised systems safe if they don’t develop a full immune response after being vaccinated or can’t be vaccinated for other reasons, like continuing to wear a mask in public settings, washing hands regularly and avoiding large crowds as much as possible.
Although it’s important to respect those who don’t get vaccinated for religious or medical reasons, it’s also crucial they continue to protect themselves and others.
Students who are fully vaccinated will not be required to be regularly tested for COVID-19 while students that are not vaccinated will be required to get tested depending on how often they visit campus, The Temple News reported.
Another reason people may feel hesitant about receiving the vaccine is distrust of the medical system, especially among people of color. For example, Black, non-white Hispanic and Native American communities were subjected to medical experiments without consent or knowledge of the experiments, including the Tuskegee Syphilis Study and the forced sterilization of Native American women, according to Scientific American.
Although these are valid concerns, it’s important for Temple and universities to ease concerns by sharing information about the efficacy and safety of vaccines, which would make a vaccine mandate more effective.
As the vaccine rollout continues, it’s becoming easier for people to get vaccinated, which will help students protect themselves from the more contagious variants of COVID-19 that have emerged from the original virus.
In order to allow more in-person services and activities to resume safely in the fall, students must do what they can to protect themselves and others around them.
Zara Abbasi, a sophomore architecture major, plans to take a few courses on campus in the fall but still intends to wear a mask despite being fully vaccinated.
Abbasi would only feel comfortable on campus if there are more students who are vaccinated, and she felt Temple should make the COVID-19 vaccine mandatory, she said.
“It just makes everyone feel safer, and I think it should be mandatory if you want to be on campus,” said Abbasi.
Suhani Patel, a junior biology major, would feel safer on campus if everyone is vaccinated because it would allow for a more safe and enjoyable college experience.
“I think they should require students to be vaccinated because it would create a safer campus for everyone, including the students and everyone that is on campus and in the surrounding community,” Patel said.
Despite legitimate concerns and vaccine hesitancy, the COVID-19 vaccines are proven to be effective in preventing serious illness and are our only hope of overcoming the pandemic. Implementing a vaccine mandate will help build herd immunity and instill a stronger sense of safety at Temple and the surrounding North Philadelphia community.
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