OPINION: Belmont must join other US universities in mandating the COVID-19 vaccine
Belmont needs to do better.
The release of the university’s COVID-19 vaccination rates Tuesday showed only 63% of students received vaccinations against the virus. The university strongly encourages the vaccine on a voluntary basis, but as case numbers start to rise once again at Belmont and beyond — this time with deadlier, more contagious variants in the mix — it’s clear that strong encouragement isn’t enough.
The upward trends in case frequency tell an all-too-familiar story, and last year, that story ended with campus abandoned and students isolated.
Belmont needs to take the next step when it comes to protecting our community by mandating the COVID-19 vaccine for students, faculty and staff. Taking into account legitimate medical and religious exemptions, every member of our Belmont community needs to get the vaccine; after seeing Tuesday’s report and its dismal figures, a mandate seems to be the only thing that will make it happen.
As of Friday, over 700 colleges in the U.S., both public and private, require students to have the COVID-19 vaccination in order to attend.
Belmont can take action now to join those ranks. In doing so, we can acknowledge what it truly means to love your neighbor and protect those who are most vulnerable.
Almost all serious and fatal COVID-19 cases now occur among the unvaccinated. At the beginning of the pandemic, it was age and underlying conditions that determined your risk of hospitalization or death from COVID-19. Now, it’s vaccine status.
Fully vaccinated individuals account for only 6.5% of new COVID-19 cases, according to a Houston study referenced by the CDC. Breakthrough infections happen, but, in the vast majority of cases, people who have been vaccinated avoid a trip to the hospital.
In addition, many routine shots are already required by the university. Mandating a vaccine to protect against COVID-19 would not be unprecedented in the slightest. Before they are allowed to attend, students are required to file immunization records showing vaccines against hepatitis B, meningitis, chickenpox, measles, mumps, rubella, tetanus, diphtheria and whooping cough.
Point being, vaccine mandates at Belmont already exist and are observed with no issue.
There is no excuse not to require another fully approved vaccine that can prevent a disease responsible for 4.55 million deaths worldwide in less than two years.
Upper administration strongly encourages all students to get the COVID-19 vaccine, so what is holding up a mandate? The answer is politics, and as excuses go, that one is pretty lousy. COVID-19 is an issue of public health, not public opinion, and the best way to slow the spread of the virus and to prevent infection by delta or other variants is to get vaccinated, according to experts at the CDC.
People use politics to justify a lot of bad decisions. If we allow fear of controversy to dictate our own safety, we are setting a precedent for the university to make decisions not because they are in our community’s best interest, but because they will invite the least amount of backlash. That is dangerous.
In refusing to mandate the vaccine at the university, we are giving oxygen to the thoroughly disproven dialogue coming from the most polarizing vaccine deniers. That is dangerous.
With city-wide restrictions lifted and the Nashville social scene open again, the bars are booming and the bands are back in town. It is inevitable that Bruins will want to live this year up to its full potential, but without the vaccine to protect our community, students risk being carriers in a chain of transmission that could end with someone losing their life.
That is dangerous.
Masks and social distancing served as the tourniquet to stop the bleeding, but vaccinations are what will close and heal the wound.
We have to stop living in the past when it comes to this pandemic.
We have to mandate the vaccine. We have to move forward.
This op-ed was written by Anna Jackson and Sarah Maninger. More information about Belmont’s current health and safety policies can be found on the university webpage for COVID-19 data reporting.