On Feb. 10, the College sent out an email via ObieSafe asking students to fill out a survey indicating their interest in being vaccinated this spring. While the College has yet to announce a full plan and is still working out logistics, they have revealed a few details. One of these details, mentioned in a recent Review article, is that the College will not be making coronavirus vaccines mandatory. This is a mistake.
The Review reported that, according to Chief of Staff David Hertz, the reasoning for not requiring coronavirus vaccinations is that the vaccines are new and “different than a flu shot that’s been given for decades.” However, this virus is also new and at present far more deadly than the seasonal flu. That’s why it is imperative that coronavirus vaccines are mandatory.
The College requires flu and other vaccinations because it knows the importance of creating herd immunity in a dorm environment where students are packed together like sardines. Not to mention, between poor sleep habits and stress, students aren’t known for taking great care of their immune systems.
Beyond concern for students’ health, Oberlin College has a duty to do all it can to protect the surrounding community with which it’s so intertwined. Even if 18–22 year olds are far less likely to be hospitalized or die than middle-aged or older individuals, the College needs to think about its larger impact.
It’s already a step in the right direction for Oberlin to establish a vaccine distribution center, which relieves some strain from Lorain County Public Health. The county is currently in a Level 3 Public Emergency, meaning there is high exposure and spread of the virus — and only about 13 percent of the population of Lorain County has been vaccinated thus far. Focusing closer to home, about 20 percent of Oberlin’s population is over the age of 60 and between 15 and 20 percent of households fall below the federal poverty line.
We have an older, high-risk population to protect. We also have a population of people who might have trouble getting to a vaccination site or getting off work to get a vaccine, who all deserve protection as well. As a privileged institution with means, the onus falls on us to protect ourselves in order to protect others.
You may be thinking, “Well, this is Oberlin. Most people will opt to get the vaccine anyway.” After all, the College is “highly recommending” vaccination. This may be so, but why take chances? If the College didn’t mandate testing, many asymptomatic folk probably wouldn’t get tested every month. Not because they don’t care about being “ObieSafe,” but because they have other things on their plates. There are already some of us who forget our testing appointments and have to reschedule or forget to sign up — and that’s with pestering emails from the College that not-so-subtly remind us to make and keep our appointments. If the College makes vaccines mandatory, we can ensure that all students who can be vaccinated, will be.
It’s understandable that some may be concerned about the new-ness of the vaccine or its ingredients. Scary words like “polyethylene glycol” can make you question what’s going in your arm, but it’s all been tested vigorously in clinical trials to ensure efficacy and safety. So far, the US has vaccinated 13 percent of the population with vaccines that have gone through a lengthy approval process and have been given the OK by the FDA.
In fact, many of the ingredients in a vaccine are things we’ve all ingested before. Polyethylene glycol is a substance found in most toothpastes and some common food and drink products. There’s also sucrose, which, guaranteed, most of us have ingested in larger quantities in DeCafé cookies.
Of course, there are always exceptions for people with allergies or other medical issues, and for people with religious qualms. But Oberlin students — a population who, let’s face it, are active in the surrounding area and don’t always take their civic duty as seriously as they should behind closed doors — shouldn’t be allowed leeway on this issue.
We may all be adults here, but there is no room for error if we want to protect ourselves and our community, and get back to the college life we all miss. Oberlin College has a responsibility to mandate coronavirus vaccinations.