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OPINION: USF needs to require vaccines for upcoming fall semester

To help mitigate the spread of COVID-19 on campus in the fall semester, USF should require students, faculty and staff planning to live, work and attend class in person to be fully vaccinated. SPECIAL TO THE ORACLE/ABEL F. ROS

Nova Southeastern University (NSU) announced April 1 that its fall 2021 semester will be in person so long as all students, faculty and staff who will be on campus obtain one of the three COVID-19 vaccines — Moderna, Pfizer-BioNTech or Johnson and Johnson — to prevent the spread of the virus during the upcoming school year. 

Other universities have added this requirement as well, like Rutgers in New Jersey, which made its announcement to students and faculty in March. USF and all other American public universities are able to make the decision themselves to require a COVID-19 vaccine before admitting students to in-person classes, according to the U.S. Department of Education. 

Even though NSU is a private school of 20,435 students, USF should put forth the same requirement for students, faculty and staff going to class as well as living and working on campus to help mitigate a potential outbreak of COVID-19 in fall. 

Florida statute Title XIVIII currently requires university students to have Hepatitis B and meningitis immunizations, and this is regulated by the Florida Department of Health and Immunization. 

Making immunization for COVID-19 mandatory for USF students and faculty would be a hastened process, since the chicken pox vaccine didn’t become mandatory in Florida schools until 11 years after its creation, according to the Immunization Action Coalition. The creation and implementation of the COVID-19 vaccines has been sped up in order to end the pandemic, so requiring the vaccines in schools faster than usual would only aid in the elimination of COVID-19. 

Requiring all people on campus to be vaccinated by Aug. 1, the date NSU is hoping all students and employees will be vaccinated, is a reasonable request by the university since USF has promised full in-person returns to campus by this fall, according to an administrative announcement March 3.

USF’s plan for in-person classes in the fall hopes to reflect pre-COVID-19 classrooms while still offering online classes for those who don’t wish to risk contracting COVID-19.

“We are planning the schedules for Summer B and for fall with the same number of class sections that we had in 2019, however, reserving the means to retain COVID-capacity classrooms,” College of Public Health Dean Donna Petersen told The Oracle in March.

Vaccinations can help stop the spread of COVID-19 by keeping people from contracting it, and even though it does not guarantee immunity for everyone, a vaccine will ensure that if contracted, the virus will not become serious or fatal, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The vaccines currently in use have proven effective at prevention and reducing severity. During an April evaluation by the CDC, the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines demonstrated 90% effectiveness in prevention. 

Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, both of which require two doses, are the most effective of the three vaccines currently available. Johnson and Johnson, though still reliable, is only 66% effective, according to the company. 

Many vaccinations are already required by USF for students to be able to attend classes, like rubella and measles, according to the USF’s immunization policy.

Some students and faculty may be against the requirement of a COVID-19 vaccine, but online classes will always be an option for those who are wary of the long-term effects of the vaccines, suspicious of how quickly they were produced or have other personal reasons for declining a vaccination.

NSU has provided some leniency for those who feel the COVID-19 vaccination goes against their religious beliefs or puts them at risk medically.

“We will produce a formal policy to provide for limited exemptions as required under law for students and employees with underlying medical conditions that prohibit vaccination or who have sincerely held religious beliefs (not personal beliefs),” said NSU President George L. Hansbury II in the April 1 announcement. 

USF would be required to offer the same exemptions to students and faculty through Title XLVIII Chapter 1004 of the Florida statutes, which requires the State Board of Education to allow students to use religious or medical exemptions to avoid immunizations. This law, however, does not include personal beliefs, meaning those who are simply against immunization cannot be exempt from the university’s requirements. 

If USF follows in the footsteps of NSU and Rutgers and requires all students and faculty to be vaccinated before the start of the fall 2021 semester, the university can help stop the spread of COVID-19 on and around its campuses as the country seeks a return to normalcy.