Rowan University announced this week that it would not require students to get vaccinated against COVID-19 for the upcoming fall semester unless the state required it. Stockton University announced a similar policy. While it’s not required, Rowan is still encouraging vaccination — the School of Osteopathic Medicine (RowanSOM) has been doling out vaccines since December 2020 and a pop-up clinic at the Glassboro campus Rec Center administered 2,000 Johnson & Johnson doses last Thursday, April 8.
This is following Rutgers University’s March 25 announcement that it would require all on-campus students to be vaccinated against COVID-19 for this upcoming fall semester, with exceptions for medical and religious reasons. This made it one of the first universities in the country to make such a mandate. Brown and Northeastern universities, University of Notre Dame, Cornell University and several other educational institutions followed suit.
To make this decision, Rowan administrators had to weigh the complex issues at hand, coming to the conclusion of a non-mandate because of the newness of the COVID-19 vaccine combined with people’s reservations about vaccination.
What’s important to note about the university’s decision is its conditionality, since the university will require vaccination if the state does, as well as its plan to provide vaccination for those who want it.
Because of this, the decision seems to us to be transient and impermanent, with a university mandate possible at any moment, whether it’s a week from now or just before the start of the fall semester. That being said, the nitty gritty details of vaccinating the whole community are something that need to be addressed in the case of a change to this policy.
First, can Rowan require vaccination? The short answer is yes, since the Wellness Center requires all students — regardless of whether they study on campus or online — to be vaccinated against measles, mumps, rubella, hepatitis B and meningococcal meningitis, and highly recommends immunizations for varicella, hepatitis A, HPV and pneumococcal.
However, these are well-established, commonplace vaccinations, and while COVID-19 vaccines are becoming increasingly more available, there are still a limited number of available doses, meaning people still struggle to get a vaccination appointment even if they want one. Specifically, The New York Times reported on the complications of governments requiring COVID-19 vaccination, including the fact that in western countries like the U.S., well-off white people are the people who have had the easiest access to COVID-19 inoculation.
“This evokes an uncomfortable image: professional-class white people disproportionately allowed into shops, baseball games and restaurants, with people of color and members of the working classes disproportionately kept out,” Max Fisher wrote.
If Rowan were to require COVID-19 vaccination for the fall semester, it would be imperative that they ensure equal access to vaccination for all members of the community, especially minorities and other people that are statistically less likely to have access. We at The Whit feel that the best way to do this would be to prioritize vaccines for current and soon-to-be students throughout the rest of this semester and the summer at RowanSOM clinic and pop-up clinics.
Another facet of requiring the Rowan community to be vaccinated is defining who exactly is and isn’t required to be vaccinated against COVID-19. Will faculty need to be vaccinated as well as students? If this requirement is anything like those of the Wellness Center, will students who will never set foot on campus still need to get their COVID-19 vaccine?
Aside from these questions, there are more related to specific rules for those who have been vaccinated. Will students be required to meet the CDC’s two-week guideline for full vaccination before coming to campus, or can they attend class after having just completed their inoculation? Will vaccines not be required and instead somehow incentivized, such as what Dickinson State University has done with making masks optional for those who’ve been vaccinated?
These are all questions which must be carefully considered before Rowan administration decides to change its COVID-19 vaccination policy.
Furthermore, it’s important to consider that this decision will not have an isolated effect. As with many Rowan initiatives, the Glassboro community that is the home of Rowan’s main campus will be affected by whatever decision administration makes about COVID-19 vaccination. While younger people are less likely to die from contracting COVID-19, they can still get it and transmit it to others who are more vulnerable. This means students who come back to Rowan’s campus in the fall may expose high risk people in the college community to the virus, as The New York Times reported this past fall.
The Whit urges university decision makers to continually evaluate their vaccination decision to create the safest environment possible for the entire community.
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