Boston College should require students to be vaccinated for COVID-19 in order to return to campus in the fall. If the University does not require the vaccine, students should get the vaccine anyway, in order to do their part in promoting the health and safety of the BC community.
The University has required students to report for asymptomatic surveillance testing all year, so requiring vaccination next year would be a logical next step for the University.
Several colleges have already announced that they will require students to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, including Northeastern University, which announced on April 6 that it will require students to provide proof of inoculation in order to return to any of its campuses worldwide in the fall. Boston University also announced on Friday that it will require students to be vaccinated in the fall, and will help students get vaccinated upon their return to campus if they are unable to get vaccinated over the summer.
Requiring students to get vaccinated will likely become a tricky legal and political issue. Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida banned “vaccine passports” in response to Nova Southeastern University’s announcement that it will require all students, faculty, and staff to be vaccinated against COVID-19 in order to return to campus in the fall. Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker said on April 7 that he will not be instituting vaccine passports, as he wants the state to focus on getting people vaccinated. People who argue against requiring proof of inoculation say that it is an issue of patient privacy. This argument does not hold in education, though, as schools already require students to provide proof of vaccination against other viruses in order to enroll. The difference with the COVID-19 vaccine is that it has received emergency use authorization rather than full FDA approval. This does not mean that the vaccine is any less effective, it means that people were able to receive the vaccine sooner after the clinical trials were finished.
BC requires students to submit proof of inoculation against tetanus, diphtheria, pertussis, hepatitis B, measles, mumps, rubella, varicella, and meningitis.
Massachusetts required all students to receive the flu vaccine in 2020 in an attempt to lessen the burden on the health care system. The deadline to receive the flu vaccine was extended from Dec. 31, 2020 to Feb. 2021. The mandate was dropped in January after the Massachusetts Department of Public Health determined that it was a mild flu season, so students were never actually required to provide proof of vaccination. While many students did not end up needing to provide documentation, the mandate likely prompted more students to get the flu shot than usual.
With the COVID-19 vaccine becoming more widely available, BC should require students to be vaccinated to return to campus in the fall. University Health Services currently has the COVID-19 vaccine listed as “highly recommended,” but the University should follow the example of Northeastern, BU, and the growing list of other colleges, and make vaccination a requirement, not just a recommendation.
The University should follow the example of BU and assist students in getting vaccinated in the fall if they are unable to before the start of the fall semester. Further, if the University has the ability to provide the vaccine to students this semester, it should opt for the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine. This would help ease the burden of getting vaccinated for students who are residents of states where COVID-19 vaccines are not widely available. Holding a vaccination clinic of the one-dose vaccine before the end of this semester would eliminate the problem of students getting their first dose of a two-dose vaccine in Massachusetts, and then struggling to get their second dose in a state where the vaccine is not as widely available.
All people ages 16 and older who live, work, or study in Massachusetts will be eligible to get the vaccine on April 19 and can pre-register for an appointment now. At the moment, appointments are still limited, but there are some helpful resources for students who do want to get vaccinated in Massachusetts. The Boston Globe and Boston Magazine both have helpful guides on how to navigate the process of getting a vaccination appointment. There is also a bot on Twitter, @vaccinetime, to help find open vaccination appointments in Massachusetts.
Regardless of whether or not BC ends up requiring the vaccine, students should put the needs of the greater community ahead of any personal reservations they have and get the vaccine.