As a healthcare worker and current health science senior at Stony Brook University, I know the importance of following a state health mandate. New York has not only implemented a mask mandate but a COVID-19 vaccination and booster mandate as well for all state university students and residents. This mandate indicates that if you do not receive a vaccination or booster within your eligibility period, you cannot take in-person classes, live on campus or use campus resources.
While I agree that vaccinations and the use of masks are highly effective, how the state is mandating vaccinations in universities is flawed. There must be other options available to students who do not want to get the vaccine. Currently, state schools do not give the option of remote learning and instead unenroll students who cannot comply with the vaccine standard, thus exemplifying that vaccination takes precedence over education.
From the outset, I had a fear of the COVID-19 vaccine because there was little information on short- and long-term side effects. I didn’t believe I needed the vaccine since I wore a mask and practiced every safety protocol throughout the pandemic and thankfully didn’t get sick with the coronavirus. I did, however, push my fears aside because I worked with at-risk patients at a physician’s office and lived with at-risk family members. I decided it was more important to protect those around me, including my family, than to prioritize my own fears.
I soon learned that the COVID-19 vaccines are up to 96.3% effective in preventing symptoms in cases of COVID-19, which reduces the viral load and spread of the virus. Because of this, I believe that the vaccine is important in reducing the viral spread, and protecting public health.
However, I wish every person could willingly make this decision on their own with no coercion; I do not believe that people should feel forced to get a vaccine that they don’t want, and in return, risk losing something valuable because of it, such as the quality of their education.
To me, it wasn’t fair that students could not take the in-person required classes if they did not get the vaccine. Since I am also planning to attend physician assistant and public health programs that require many prerequisites, I feel forced to weigh the importance of my educational dreams with my apprehension about the vaccine.
New York state schools have done nothing to ease their students into this transition, such as offering other opportunities, such as remote learning. Even if they had given me a silver lining and offered the classes I needed to take online, I still wouldn’t have been able to learn in the same way I always have.
Shortly after in-person classes began, the vaccine became mandatory. I watched many students struggle with deciding whether the vaccine was worth it, and I empathized with them. Fellow students shared the same fear and were worried that the vaccine was developed too soon after COVID-19 arose, believing there was not enough information on it. It took only one year for the coronavirus vaccine to be developed and hasn’t had enough time to fail or show signs of improvement in the long term. We should not be forced to decide when there is already reasonable doubt.
Students are now faced with making a hasty decision about getting vaccinated against a virus that is constantly changing. If they choose to decide about their own health that is against state policy, they risk losing their degree, career goals and dreams. With no other options offered, such as online education, students may think they have no other choice than the vaccine, despite their personal opinions.
If we are going to continue to mandate vaccination for in-person classes, we need to provide the resources for those who decide against the vaccine. Every in-person class should also provide a recorded zoom lecture with a teacher’s assistant; it is the best way to follow any developing public health safety protocols and respect the wishes and beliefs of every individual. We must protect the public while preserving individual liberties.