When GW fully reopens, the COVID-19 vaccine should be mandatory

With two promising COVID-19 vaccines in the works, it seems that the end of the pandemic is within sight. But like nearly every public health expert says – we won’t be fully safe from the virus until we are vaccinated.

For college campuses like GW, widespread inoculation means reopening. But we must ensure everyone receives the vaccine so we can safely return to campus. Once it becomes widely and equitably available, administrators must require all students – except for those with a medical exemption – to receive the vaccine if they want to come back to campus and return to normal.

Luke Gilpin | Cartoonist

The simple truth is that a vaccine is the best way to ward off sickness and decrease the devastating death toll of the coronavirus. We wear masks because there is no vaccine. We remain 6 feet away from one another because there is no vaccine for a virus that has plagued the country and world. A vaccine is our best bet for not getting sick. We have a responsibility to protect our health and the health of other people at risk of sickness.

The University currently accepts religious exemptions to a vaccine. But when we’re talking life and death, that exemption should not apply. We need to get back to reality, and people should only receive an exemption to the vaccine if it will only make them sicker. This pandemic has destructed the country because we don’t have any type of widespread immunity against the virus. In that case, the University has a responsibility to ensure every student has the lowest chances of contracting COVID-19 – and that means only accepting waivers for medical conditions.

Since everyone who attends GW needs to have some form of health insurance, either through a private provider or the University’s insurance, it would not be an extreme burden on the student for the University to create this mandate. To ensure that everyone gets this vaccine, GW would only need to add it to the list of required immunizations and place a hold on a student’s account if they fail to provide documentation.

GW should also verify that non-U.S. citizens, like international students or DACA recipients, can access the vaccine. The Trump administration has made it clear that the vaccine will be made available to U.S. citizens. Should this come to pass, officials will need to step in to guarantee that all non-citizens get the vaccine. GW stepped in to provide vaccines during the swine flu epidemic, so it is not far from reason to assume they would be able to do the same in this situation.

COVID-19 has resulted in serious losses in revenue for the University, so not only is it practical to promote vaccination on a public health standpoint but also practical from a monetary standpoint. The virus has caused drops in student enrollment, significant losses in revenue from housing, the cancellation of many of our sports programs and widespread layoffs of faculty and staff. Continually testing everyone on campus is also much more expensive than simply making sure that everyone gets vaccinated.

The only way to create the most amount of safety on campus is if everyone who is able to get the vaccine, gets it. Aside from the medical exemptions that can hinder the most vulnerable among us to get a vaccine, there is no reason somebody should not be vaccinated. GW is a private institution, a non-religious entity that has the ability to set and maintain its own rules and regulations. The religious exemption to vaccines that GW has provided for many of its “mandatory” inoculations should not be allowed in this situation. If a student has serious religious objections to the University’s decision, there is nothing stopping them from going somewhere else. We are all customers in this situation, with GW’s education and facilities being the product. This situation is no different than the “no shoes, no shirt, no service” signs seen in restaurants and bars across the country.

At the end of the day, this virus has taken the lives of more than 200,000 Americans, grounded the U.S. economy to a halting stop, significantly disrupted the lives of everyone and permanently altered many GW students’ college experiences. The vaccine is the closest thing we have to getting back to our pre-pandemic lives and recovering from this dark period in our history. If students want to get back to campus, get back into classrooms and get back into the swing of things, and if the University wants to recover from the slump this pandemic has caused, the vaccine must be completely mandatory.

The editorial board is composed of Hatchet staff members and operates separately from the newsroom. This week’s piece was written by opinions editor Hannah Thacker and contributing opinions editor Andrew Sugrue, based on discussions with managing director Kiran Hoeffner-Shah, managing editor Parth Kotak, sports editor Emily Maise, culture editor Anna Boone and design editor Olivia Columbus. 

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