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As the COVID-19 vaccine rollout continues on campus, students have begun discussing what life on campus next semester will look like. One major aspect of the conversation revolves around whether or not students will need to be vaccinated. I believe all students should be required to get vaccinated in order to study on campus in the fall.
This requirement is contingent on one important condition: Because some students may not have access to vaccines over the summer, Haverford would have to provide doses to these students as they arrive. The college is clearly capable of providing vaccines to students, faculty and staff, as evidenced by the current rollout, and doses will be even more widely available come September. In an interview with The Clerk, President Wendy Raymond communicated her expectation that vaccines would be required for all students, contingent on formal government approval of the vaccine and with standard exemptions being made for religious and medical reasons. Already, the college is requiring that all students living on campus this summer get vaccinated.
Existing precedent places vaccination requirements solidly within the college’s purview. Students are required to have multiple other vaccines before arriving as first-years. It is unreasonable to believe that Haverford can require all of these other vaccinations but cannot require a COVID vaccine, especially considering its status as a private institution. The college feels strongly enough that students should be protected from these other conditions which, because students are vaccinated, are no longer serious threats to the community. COVID, on the other hand, is clearly still dangerous – requiring vaccination would reflect the school’s commitment to controlling the spread of the virus on campus.
Some might argue that once a significant portion of the population has been vaccinated, the campus will reach a level of “herd immunity,” at which point unvaccinated students are protected from the virus without having received a shot. However, this goes against the college’s “one case is too many” philosophy regarding the virus. Not having a shot puts any student at higher risk of contracting the virus, especially if they travel off campus. Though living on campus has created a bubble of sorts, students still leave each day for groceries and other purposes. These points of contact limit the feasibility of a true bubble, and in turn, that of herd immunity. In other words, Haverford’s campus is permeable, and students could potentially contract COVID while off-campus. Herd immunity within the Haverbubble does not mean that there is necessarily the same degree of immunity within the broader community.
The idea that students should be given the agency to weigh the potential harms of contracting COVID against those of getting vaccinated is flawed for two reasons. First, it is important to note that the “rushed” nature of the COVID vaccine development has no correlation to its effectiveness or its safety. The reason that they were developed so quickly is that many of the best medical minds in the world worked on them and tested them. We have reason to believe that the vaccines are safe and reasonably effective. Second, this point of view is personal rather than communal; it does not effectively account for the fact that contracting the virus puts others at a higher risk of contracting it as well, some of whom may be susceptible to worse symptoms.
Lastly, a vaccine requirement gives the student population, as well as faculty and staff, peace of mind that they are protected to the highest degree possible. With a fully vaccinated student population, the college should be inclined to allow some activities to return, most notably in-person classes. As exciting as the reduction of COVID restrictions sounds, the most valuable part of requiring a vaccine is knowing that I can interact with other students without having to wonder how responsible they have been with regards to the COVID guidelines.