OPINION: It is not too late for UNCW to require COVID-19 vaccinations

Michael Friant, Contributing Writer

With the semester just getting underway, we are all excited to get back to campus after experiencing Zoom meetings and online classes. However, with the rise of the contagious delta variant, this excitement and anticipation of a normal school year are in jeopardy of a spring 2020 repeat. Therefore, UNCW should require all students to be vaccinated unless they have underlining conditions in order to ensure a normal school year and to protect those students who are unable to have the vaccination.

UNCW already mandates certain immunizations against certain diseases such as mumps and measles. This is done to protect the greater student body from a massive outbreak. So, mandating the COVID-19 vaccine for all students would provide a layer of protection to the student body against a massive delta variant outbreak, and a subsequent reversal to an online class setting. Likewise, requiring the vaccine for all who are eligible would provide a certain level of protection for the immunocompromised students who want to be on campus for the social and academic benefits but are afraid of contracting the virus.

Nevertheless, some reading this article would be vehemently against UNCW mandating the vaccine even though they are legally allowed to do so. As previously mentioned, UNCW already requires vaccines for other diseases and we all comply or are not allowed to attend the university. The only reason why there is an uproar is that fighting COVID-19 has been turned into a partisan debate

So, while UNCW should still require vaccines even though students have moved back into campus housing, there will be students who would still be resistant. Those students should be removed from the school for not complying. However, I do think the university should give full tuition refunds to those individuals since they would have come to college under the assumption that vaccines would not be required. Then starting next semester, UNCW should require the vaccine for in-person classes.

In addition to actually protecting against an outbreak, requiring students to be vaccinated would greatly reduce a repeat of the poor quarantine conditions of fall 2020 or worse. With only 150 beds in Galloway Hall and a relatively normal semester planned, a massive delta outbreak, which is highly transmissible, would be difficult to handle given that the other dormitories would be filled with occupants. School officials will not be able to send students to their communal living quarters if they end up contracting the virus.

Furthermore, by diminishing the chances of a reversal to an online school environment with the vaccines, UNCW would be preserving the mental health of its students. This past year and a half has been hard on all of us with minimal contact and socialization with our peers. Seeing someone on a computer screen is not the same as seeing someone in the flesh. Maintaining an in-person setting would reduce the stress of online classes.

All classes are stressful but online modality is especially hard because the interactions between the students and faculty are not the same. A student cannot just pop into their professor’s office and ask for help. Likewise, when you are enrolled in online classes, there is a sense of loneliness that is greatly reduced by the comradery of a campus environment. Requiring the vaccine will undoubtedly help students’ grades which will ultimately keep the university in good standing. More importantly, it will help the students to retain the information better.

Next, requiring vaccinations would enable UNCW to get rid of the mask mandate and know that the students are protected on and off campus. This would be a welcome decision for everyone, myself included. While UNCW is requiring masks for indoor settings, the vast majority of students will not be wearing masks in off-campus settings such as weekend parties, bars and other events. This will undoubtedly result in a massive amount of infections. Some might be asymptomatic which means these individuals will be on campus unknowingly spreading the virus even with the mask mandate.

However, since UNCW is not requiring the vaccine, aggressive surveillance testing should be in place for all students. This is crucial to maintain an in-person atmosphere. The current weekly testing is not good enough because there are people who could be asymptotic for several days and thus would be unknowingly spreading the virus during this time. Also, what if a person catches the virus the day that they get tested and it doesn’t have time to generate enough particles to show up on the test? Then if the student stays asymptotic for a whole week, the student would undoubtedly spread the virus to countless others. Therefore, I think UNCW should do twice-a-week surveillance testing for the unvaccinated. Perhaps, the inconvenience of the surveillance testing, though for a good reason, will persuade more students to be vaccinated.

Furthermore, still requiring vaccines for the fall semester will ensure a less chaotic situation in a hurricane evacuation. With students less likely to be responsible off campus, there is a good chance of them being infected. If a hurricane came the university would not be able to test every single person before sending them home. This will undoubtedly fuel transmission rates in their home environments even more due to them returning to communities with more elderly and immunocompromised people.

So, while UNCW is not currently requiring vaccinations, it should for a number of reasons including the physical and mental health of the greater student body, maintaining an in-person class setting and for the academic success of all its students. UNCW claims that they want a normal semester, but in reality, it is just a matter of time before we are thrown back into chaos due to the current inadequate regulations putting thousands of students in jeopardy.