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To vaccinate or not to vaccinate: Not so obvious

| Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Kerry Schneeman | The Observer

The time has finally come. For some, the day we’ve been waiting for: the chance to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. For others, the day they’ve feared: the University’s vaccination requirement for fall enrollment. This is not to say that campus is evenly divided between these two groups, but simply, that emotions of excitement and concern are both substantially present. At this point, you might have strong feelings either way, whether the University should require vaccination of students: *eye roll* “Duhh!” or *angry face* “Absolutely not!” Before you tune out the rest of what I have to say, however, because the answer seems obvious to you, consider the following: While it may be the obvious choice to get the vaccine as soon as possible for someone living in a multigenerational household in a city that has been a COVID-19 hotspot, it’s not so obvious for someone who lives with young, healthy parents or guardians in a remote area that has not been hard-hit by the virus. While the vaccination requirement might be an obvious issue of personal freedom to one person, it may be an obvious community obligation to someone else who regularly interacts with immunocompromised individuals or who has lost a loved one to the virus. It would do us all some good to be a little less sure that our stance is the morally superior one. That said, I invite you to come along with me to wrestle with the issue on one condition: that you momentarily step aside from what you think is obvious.

1. All squares are rectangles, but not all rectangles are squares.
Vaccine hesitancy is not synonymous with the anti-vax mentality. Don’t act like it is. While anti-vaxxers are sure to be among those who decline the vaccine, there are Americans who happily comply with their regular vaccination and public health requirements but are merely uneasy about this newly developed vaccine. As time goes on, the American public is largely coming around to trusting the vaccine. A Gallup poll from March 30 shows that 74% of Americans are willing to receive or already have received a COVID-19 vaccine, up from 65% in December. People are simply protective of their bodies and hesitant about super new scientific developments, not stubborn and evil. As more and more data supporting COVID vaccine safety accumulates, more Americans will roll up their sleeves for the shot.

2. Not so fast …
One of the most common concerns of vaccine-hesitant people seems to be the vaccine’s rapid development and the fact that it is only currently authorized for Emergency Use by the FDA. They’re scared of potential adverse effects down the road. We should take comfort, however, in the fact that Pfizer has released six months of promising data, and over 100 million Americans have received at least one dose of a vaccine. We are no longer in the extremely early stages of vaccine administration. Pfizer plans to apply for full licensure this year, which will simply require observing volunteers for a longer period of time to determine how long protection lasts and to look out for any rare or long-term harmful effects. Healthline offers a great in-depth explanation of how the vaccine was developed so quickly and why this should not be a cause for concern, but the gist of the explanation is that due to the extreme circumstances of a pandemic, we devoted an extraordinary amount of resources and attention toward developing a vaccine against COVID-19.

3. What-abouts
Given that the primary purpose of the vaccine is to prevent people from contracting and spreading the virus, it is difficult to argue that people who have been recently infected must take the vaccine despite their natural immunity. Last semester, a total of 1,597 graduate and undergraduate students tested positive for COVID-19, while as of April 12, 1,320 students have tested positive this spring. We must keep in mind that data regarding the duration of natural immunity is inconclusive. Natural antibodies could potentially wane, especially the further back a person had COVID-19, thus leaving the individual inadequately protected for the entirety of the upcoming school year. The Pfizer vaccine has thus far proven to offer strong protection against COVID-19 for at least six months (because we only have six months of data so far), but is expected to continue offering protection beyond this period. Furthermore, the vaccines are believed to provide more robust protection against variants than natural immunity. Combined with the demonstrated safety and efficacy of the vaccines so far, balancing the burden of requiring vaccination of these students against the risks of vaccination leans in favor of vaccination.

4. Whose body?
“My body, my choice” is a tempting cry against the vaccination requirement, but its rhetoric is deceitful. This choice will not just affect your body. I, personally ,am not a fan of being told to take something, shut up and not ask any questions, so I’m sympathetic with the desire to have a say in what enters one’s body. But in the case of a contagious virus, the status of your body affects bodies around you. These bodies will, in many instances, not have a choice to be exposed to you. Presumably, even those who don’t want to be vaccinated wish to return to “normal life,” which means they will come in contact with lots of other people — some vaccinated, some not, and some who cannot take the vaccine for religious or medical reasons.

5. Same rules for all players
Ultimately, fairness and administrative ease point to the need for the vaccination requirement. Given uncertainty about the duration of natural immunity, new variants and differing guidelines for vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals, it makes sense that the University should set a universal standard for the student body. Otherwise, if students have the choice to get vaccinated or not and the CDC has different guidelines for social interaction among vaccinated vs. unvaccinated people, this would be problematic to enforce on campus. Would the vaccinated be allowed to go maskless, while the unvaccinated are required to continue wearing masks? Such a policy would be impossible to enforce and could result in unvaccinated people spreading COVID-19. How would the University handle social distancing guidelines and occupancy limits in common places if both vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals are to use them? It would be unfair to maintain full social distancing requirements for vaccinated students, but potentially dangerous to lift them for the unvaccinated. So, we need a common standard in order to live and study in a communal setting.

I will leave you with one final thought regarding hesitancy toward vaccination. When people are feeling scared or uncertain about something, the appropriate response is typically not to scream at and shame them (“What’s wrong with you? How dare you exhibit the slightest bit of unease toward this even though you have a unique personal situation that I don’t know all the details of!”) The better response is to acknowledge their feelings of fear and help them come to see that the thing they fear is actually not so scary.

Eva Analitis is a junior in Lyons Hall majoring in political science and pre-health. Even though she often can’t make up her own mind, that won’t stop her from trying to change yours. She can be reached at [email protected] or @evaanalitis on Twitter.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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