The University is encouraging eligible members of the campus community to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, according to Carolina Together, but the UNC System is not planning to require it for students returning in the fall.
As other institutions across the country announce that students must be fully vaccinated before they return, some UNC students have expressed frustration at the lack of a mandate at the University.
University decisions and discussions
During an April Faculty Council meeting, Chairperson of the Faculty Mimi Chapman said there was no specific public health guidance regarding mandatory vaccines, so the UNC System did not believe it was of legal authority to do so.
Meanwhile, institutions such as Brown University, Duke University, Ithaca College, the University of Notre Dame, Northeastern University and Syracuse University have announced that students must be fully vaccinated in order to return to campus for the fall semester.
Duke University President Vincent Price said in a statement that widespread vaccination will be the only way to facilitate a return to normal campus life.
In an interview with The Daily Tar Heel, Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz said it is still unclear whether a mandate is necessary at UNC, or if it is even feasible.
“There are a lot of issues around a mandate,” he said. “And so while some institutions — not many, I think it's four or five that we're aware of — have mandated this, I think it's premature to do that. We still have a lot to learn.”
Guskiewicz said the UNC System would be involved in the decision for a potential mandate, or would be pushed from a change in the state law or autonomy given to individual campuses.
Students express concern
Sophomore Sofia De Oliveira said she could not blame UNC for making such a disclaimer, because some people are not comfortable with getting the vaccine.
But she said UNC should make the vaccine required by the fall — especially since more classes will be in person.
“If they want summer or fall classes to be in person, then they should make it required because UNC students — and I think all North Carolina students — are already required to show immunization records,” De Oliveira said. “So, if we want the pandemic to end, it’s just logical to make it a requirement to show an immunization record for the COVID vaccine.”
Mary Grace, a transfer student, said she was irate when she heard that UNC was not going to make the vaccine mandatory. She said she had to submit an updated immunization record when she came to UNC, so it makes little sense to her that the COVID-19 vaccine will not be required.
Grace’s husband, Sebastian Graber, has a heart condition and is immunocompromised. He said it was too much of a risk for Grace to attend in-person classes because of the possibility of being exposed to COVID-19 — despite them both being fully vaccinated.
“One of the biggest issues I see is the variants — we do not know what kind of variants are coming down the road,” Grace said. “Even though we’re both vaccinated, it’s 95 percent (effective), so there’s that extra five percent, but I wouldn’t be able to do it because I would put him at risk.”
Sophomore Charlotte Houser said one of her friends who attends Duke is immunocompromised and faces health risks because she is often unable to receive vaccines.
“She really relies on Duke to mandate that everyone is vaccinated so herd immunity can protect her,” Houser said.
She said she has a friend who attends UNC and faces similar health risks, but does not get the same reassurance as her friend from Duke.
If UNC does not mandate the vaccine, her friend will have to continue doubling up on masks, wearing face shields, limiting the number of people she sees or just simply not returning to school, Houser said.
“It’s something that bothers me because I don’t want my friends to have to wear a mask and a face shield for their entire lives because people have decided that this is their hill to die on, and that if they receive the vaccine, their liberties are going to be violated,” she said.
Houser said someone’s preference to not receive the vaccine should not override anyone who could die from the effects of COVID-19.
“It’s like an empathy thing,” she said. “It boggles my mind that this is the debate.”
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