Vaccination at Universities

Yesterday, NSW took its first steps to open back up again after three months of lockdown. For schoolchildren, especially younger children and senior students, those months of online learning were a struggle. But for many university students, online study has been a reality for much longer.

I was lucky enough to have a year of normal university before COVID hit. But since then, I’ve had a grand total of just thirteen hours of in-person classes over the past two years.

University communities are desperate to get back to an in-person experience as soon as possible, and some are asking whether COVID vaccines should be a requirement.

Three universities in Melbourne have already taken this step. In September, La Trobe became the first Australian university to require vaccination for all individuals who wanted to return to campus in December, including staff, students and other visitors like contractors.

The university said they had “a duty to eliminate or…minimise the risk of exposure to Covid-19 in the workplace.” Their Vice-Chancellor added that this year’s high school graduates would be far more likely to enrol in university if on-campus learning was guaranteed, something that would be greatly helped by high vaccination rates.

La Trobe was followed by Monash University and the University of Melbourne, and Deakin University has indicated interest.

NSW Vice-Chancellors’ committee convenor Professor Barney Glover has reported that all large universities in metropolitan Sydney are considering taking up the mandate, but pointed out that such a step would be more difficult for regional universities where vaccine accessibility is limited.

The University of Sydney and the University of NSW are currently surveying staff and students on mandatory vaccination. A TAFE NSW survey of staff and students revealed that 86% of staff and 83% of students were either already vaccinated or planning to be.

Once available to them, vaccine uptake has been highest in 18-44 year olds.
(Institute of Melbourne)

Many have pointed out that vaccination rates in universities could already be high enough that mandates aren’t necessary. University students and many staff fall into the age group with the highest vaccine uptake.

Mandatory vaccination has already been widely popular among American colleges. Over 730 US colleges have made COVID vaccination mandatory, including major colleges like Columbia, Harvard, Princeton, Stanford, UCLA, and Yale, resulting in near-perfect jab rates.

University campuses are fraught with super-spreader potential – the majority of educational and social activities involve large groups of people who come from all over the city and country. COVIC vaccines are already mandatory for students who have to enter restricted spaces like hospitals and disability centres, and ‘no jab no play’ policies in childcares and schools essentially enforce childhood vaccines.

It is true that in general, vaccine rates are high among university staff and students, and vaccine hesitancy in general continues to fall across Australia. But the majority of Australians supported mandatory vaccination for work, travel or study even at the beginning of 2021, before the June outbreak.

Universities have a responsibility both to provide the high-quality education their students are paying for, and to ensure the health and safety of their communities. Vaccination requirements are definitely one way to achieve both these goals.

Cover photo by CDC on Unsplash.

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