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EDITORIAL: Mandate vaccines and ensure a safe fall semester

The University must take precautionary measures — like requiring vaccines — to create a safe fall semester

<p>While it is incumbent upon University administrators to do everything in their power to ensure a smooth transition to what will hopefully be an in-person semester in the fall, members of the University community must also do their part.</p>

While it is incumbent upon University administrators to do everything in their power to ensure a smooth transition to what will hopefully be an in-person semester in the fall, members of the University community must also do their part.

Just over a year ago, activity on Grounds seemingly came to a screeching halt after the first COVID-19 cases were reported in Virginia. The University’s administration moved swiftly to transition thousands of in-person classes to online instruction, with most students not returning to Grounds after spring break. While at the time there were still a lot of unknowns about the virus and its impact, one year later, not only have we become intimately familiar with mask-wearing and social distancing, but there is now the potential to return to a more normal life. 

The Food and Drug Administration issued emergency use authorization in December 2020 for vaccines developed by both Pfizer and Moderna. Two months later, similar approval was given to a vaccine developed by Johnson & Johnson. While these first doses were initially made available only to frontline workers and those with underlying conditions, all individuals aged 16 and older in Virginia are now eligible for immunization. In an email sent out to the University community April 9, Dean of Students Allen Groves announced the University would begin administering vaccines to students. While this is undoubtedly a step in the right direction, there remain a number of other steps that the administration ought to take if the University is to see a "normal" semester in the fall.

First and foremost is the issue of ensuring that every member of the University community is vaccinated. While thousands of students have already taken advantage of the University’s vaccination program, many still have not and immunization is completely voluntary. For these reasons, the COVID-19 shot should be added to Student Health’s list of Required Immunizations. While community members will still be able to seek an exemption if they have circumstances which prevent them from being immunized, adding the COVID-19 vaccine to this list will nonetheless provide an incentive to those who have not yet taken the time to schedule an appointment.

Furthermore, a plan must also be implemented to ensure that students who have not yet matriculated at the University will also be fully vaccinated by the start of the fall semester. This is especially important considering the timeline necessary for vaccinated individuals to become fully immunized. For example, while the Johnson & Johnson vaccine entails just a single shot, it takes four weeks to achieve “significant protection.” Conversely, while the timeline needed to achieve this same level of protection is just two weeks for both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, the obvious drawback is the fact that two doses are required. In the case of the Pfizer vaccine, the timing between these two doses is 3 weeks as opposed to 4 weeks for Moderna. Needless to say, ensuring that a single student is fully immunized against COVID-19 is a time-intensive process that cannot be achieved overnight. For these reasons, the University administration must ensure that all students, particularly incoming first years and international students, are fully immunized prior to arriving on Grounds so as to avoid large outbreaks like those that occurred in dorms this year.

It is imperative above all else for University administrators to listen to the science and take guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Throughout the course of this pandemic, a common theme has been the need for flexibility. In writing this editorial, we would be remiss if we did not acknowledge the fact that circumstances and indeed the very nature of the virus itself may be dramatically different come this fall. As such, it is vital for the administration to stay true to the “Finish Strong” banners across Grounds. Prevalence testing and masking requirements in indoor areas will likely be needed, at least partially, this fall  — particularly if the virus continues to mutate. In addition, the University needs to be explicitly clear and transparent about the reasonings behind their policies, and must take into account how any CDC guidance relates to life on Grounds.

Ultimately, while it is incumbent upon University administrators to do everything in their power to ensure a smooth transition to what will hopefully be an in-person semester in the fall, members of the University community must also do their part. To put it simply, getting vaccinated is the only way that we as a community will be able to beat this virus. If you have not already scheduled an appointment, we encourage you to do so as soon as possible. Similarly, reach out to those around you and make sure that they are also getting vaccinated. There is unfortunately a lot of fear and misinformation surrounding these vaccines and it is important for us to allay these concerns. Lastly, while it is certainly tempting to disregard COVID-19 guidelines entirely once fully vaccinated, it is vital that we continue to remain cautious and look out for those around us.

The Cavalier Daily Editorial Board is composed of the Executive Editor, the Editor-in-Chief, the two Opinion Editors, their Senior Associate and an Opinion Columnist. The board can be reached at eb@cavalierdaily.com.

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