That’s debatable: Should colleges require COVID-19 vaccines?

Art+by+Vivian+Spear.

Art by Vivian Spear.

Multiple Authors

Vaccine mandates protect the common good, prevent contagious viruses and diseases 

Zay Yontz

The return of in-person school brought the following question to many colleges and universities: should colleges require students to show proof of the COVID-19 vaccine? As immunizations become more readily available, many places are encouraging all people to become vaccinated. While some may argue this requirement violates individual rights, it comes down to the fact that inoculation will protect the common good. The term common good, or herd immunity, refers to a large group of people becoming immune to a disease. It is unsure if herd immunity is achievable in reference to COVID-19 currently. However, herd immunity might be a possibility in the future if enough people are vaccinated according to Mayo Clinic. 

Several vaccines, including the measles and tetanus vaccine, are already mandated. Various universities have started to require students to show proof of COVID-19 immunization in order to achieve herd immunity. Johns Hopkins University, for example, requires all staff and students to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. While there are exemptions for those with medical or religious reasons, mandating vaccinations for students is not a new process.

The measles, tetanus and COVID-19 vaccines all share one thing in common, which is that they provide protection against harmful diseases and viruses. The COVID-19 vaccine is arguably the most important vaccine in the status quo because it is essential in order to achieve herd immunity. If colleges are able to require other vaccinations, they should also mandate it for COVID-19 because it is essential in order to achieve herd immunity. There are, however, still many people who argue immunization requirements infringe on constitutional rights.

The supreme court case Jacobson v. Massachusetts ruled it was constitutional for governments to require vaccines in order to protect citizens’ safety. In an article by Cornell Law, supreme court Justice John Marshall Harlan I wrote, “According to settled principles, the police power of a state must be held to embrace, at least, such reasonable regulations established directly by legislative enactment as will protect the public health and the public safety.” Although the supreme court ruled Jacobson v. Massachusetts constitutional several years ago, its main goal still remains. The mandate of immunizations is necessary when it prevents the spread of contagious diseases. 

In order for colleges and universities to keep their students safe during a worldwide pandemic, an initiative to require all students and faculty to receive immunization is necessary. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the COVID-19 BioNTech Pfizer vaccine Aug. 23. The vaccine has already shown large success rates with little to no adverse reactions. Any symptoms presented from the immunization have been mild, according to an article by the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy. There is sufficient evidence to prove the effectiveness of the vaccine from a variety of medical organizations, which is one of the reasons colleges should require vaccines.

Last fall, many colleges and universities implemented virtual learning measures in order to keep the community safe. The immunization mandate not only benefits the safety of staff and students but also lowers the chances of virtual learning returning. Duke, Harvard and Princeton are a few of the many colleges that require COVID-19 vaccines. Elementary, middle, high school and colleges are not well prepared for the task of social distancing because classrooms are small and there isn’t a lot of space to spread out, according to National Public Radio (NPR). A community of vaccinated students and administration would decrease the likelihood of a COVID-19 outbreak, which would disrupt learning as it forces students who are exposed to quarantine. Virtual learning causes several negative impacts because it interferes with students’ ability to learn. According to an article by the University of Illinois Springfield, virtual school usually only works successfully for those who are well prepared and organized. Consistent preparation and organization are difficult to become accustomed to because many students are not well prepared for virtual school. The article states that students typically rely on in-person schedules to keep them in order. Requiring vaccines, however, can prevent disorganization and unpreparedness by adding another level of safety.

Wearing masks and social distancing all help prevent the spread of COVID-19, but the most important factor that colleges need to take into consideration is mandating the COVID-19 vaccines. Colleges that are already not requiring immunizations need to do so in order to return to a state of normalcy.

Vaccine requirements violate the 14th amendment, fail to reflect modern times

Nora Crutcher-McGowan

The widespread use of COVID-19 vaccines since last spring and recent full FDA approval of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine calls into question whether government, state and higher education entities will and can use their power to require COVID-19 inoculations. Several universities showed their stance on the issue, with over 700 colleges, both private and public, requiring immunization against COVID-19 for students to attend classes on campus, according to an updated list from Best Colleges.com. The U.S. is not unfamiliar with vaccine requirements in schools, just as it is also not new to rejection of such measures by some groups. Additionally, virtually all U.S. states have different legal codes and rules regarding vaccine requirements, making a universal agreement on the ethics of the situation hard to come by. 

Statewide rules vary. Some states, such as Wyoming and Utah, do not allow schools to require COVID-19 vaccines, and also have religious exemptions in place that make it easier for students to opt out of a vaccine. New York and Connecticut require vaccines at schools and don’t have religious exemptions. In some cases, these rules can change throughout individual schools in the states. Exemptions are also broad and versatile; “Utah allows exemptions for medical reasons, religious and personal beliefs,” according to NBC News. As with many other contested issues in America, the legal high ground of vaccine requirement is very different across the board, which is apparent in the various legal displays and interpretations of the act. Inhibiting one overall rule regarding immunization requirements in institutions across all states would surely achieve some clear guidance to the American public, preferably one that reads less invasive and forceful but rather as an encouragement to receive preventative vaccines. Besides, forcing vaccinations onto students is a dated practice that doesn’t reflect modern attitudes.                                                                                                                                                                                                                   

Vaccine requirements at colleges contradict shifting American attitudes toward personal freedom in the last half-century, as evidenced by several landmark supreme court cases. Early 1900s progressive era America characteristically administered vaccines in public schools to combat diphtheria and polio. While many schools still run vaccine clinics, public schools are no longer a haven of public health as they once were. Opposition to vaccines and vaccine requirements has existed for several hundred years, but it is now far more common for parents and individuals to prefer to make such personal decisions on their own terms and for schools to follow more conventions because of drastic political changes in the last century. The legacies of cases like Roe v. Wade influence these views. For example, Roe v. Wade, which allows a person to terminate a pregnancy in the first trimester, was decided under the jurisdiction of the due process clause of the 14th amendment, which “protects against state action the right to privacy.” The case weighed the individual’s privacy as more important than the state’s quest to preserve life. Theoretically, this argument can apply to cases in which a person refuses to receive a mandatory vaccine on the basis of privacy. So, vaccine requirements in colleges teeter on violating the 14th amendment. 

Roe v. Wade and other cases that argued for personal freedom over state interference through the 14th amendment, such as Loving v. Virginia and Lawrence v. Texas, has had a huge impact on the relevance of personal autonomy in American culture in other less apparent aspects. Its impact undoubtedly includes arguments against vaccine requirements in schools and businesses. 

It is inherently democratic to have the ability to make individual decisions without counsel or influence from the state or population as a whole. This constitutional right needs to be upheld by colleges as they attempt to require COVID-19 vaccinations.

Should colleges require COVID-19 vaccinations? Let us know in the comments below.