According to the CDC, roughly 35 percent of individuals in the US have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine as of April 10. With three vaccines receiving emergency approval from the FDA, many project that this number will continue to steadily climb throughout the summer. Mercyhurst has also aided in the effort to vaccinate members of the community, providing opportunities for students and faculty to receive their vaccines on campus. As more and more vaccines are produced and made readily available, one wonders how Mercyhurst will update their vaccination requirements for next fall. Students are required to submit immunology records upon matriculation to the university, and vaccines for many different illnesses help to create a safe learning and living environment. However, some oppose vaccines on religious or medical grounds, and exceptions to the requirements for vaccinations against other ailments are available. How should Mercyhurst balance these competing interests?
Through a series of court cases, the U.S. Government has established that vaccine requirements must be narrowly tailored. This prevents the government from creating “blanket rules” that are overly broad and could create unintended consequences. Furthermore, these mandates also need to include valid medical or religious exemptions that balance public health with private liberties. Given this legal history, it’s entirely possible that Mercyhurst may be obligated to comply with federal or state legislation, though these mandates could face legal challenges in court. Moreover, Mercyhurst is a private university, which gives it more freedom than public schools. Absent any official government intervention, should Mercyhurst independently require students to receive a COVID vaccine before returning for the Fall 2021 semester? Arguably yes, with as few exceptions as reasonably possible. As many leaders in the public health field have emphasized on countless occasions, vaccination is one of the best ways we can protect ourselves and our communities against infection. Although it is still very important for vaccinated individuals to remain vigilant even after they’ve been fully vaccinated, the importance of vaccines cannot be understated enough. All three vaccines that have received special approval from the FDA have shown a 100 percent effectiveness in reducing hospitalizations due to COVID-19. This makes them vitally important to the battle against the pandemic, helping hospitals keep resources available for those who become seriously ill or suffer from other afflictions. Mercyhurst would still need to consider the fact that some students may seek exemptions from a vaccine requirement for a variety of reasons. This means that much like the legislation of vaccine requirements, Mercyhurst may have to abide by additional guidelines that may exempt students from such a rule.
That being said, such exceptions would need to be properly evaluated and ensure that such exceptions are not improperly abused. At the end of the day, we all want the same things: for some semblance of normalcy to return, for people to be as safe and healthy as possible and for students to enjoy their college experience after enduring a year of hardship. Ideally, a vaccine requirement would support our initiatives to those ends and would serve as an additional mitigation strategy. That being said, it remains important to listen to and account for possible extenuating circumstances and develop a system that appropriately factors in all needs.