Opinion: AU should get involved in vaccination efforts when it can

The University can support students, faculty and staff by streamlining rollout

Opinion: AU should get involved in vaccination efforts when it can

It’s feeling like spring here in D.C. The cherry blossoms have bloomed. The quad is filled up with frisbees, spikeball nets and students with open laptops trying to take in the fresh air. The sun is coming out behind grey clouds. Yet, things aren’t normal. We are still wearing masks and social distancing. Most of us are desperate for the vaccine, because we can’t return to normal without it. Our summer won’t be the same until we have herd immunity. 

College students, unless they are essential workers or immunocompromised, were largely left out of the original equation when rolling out the vaccine. That tune has started to change. On campuses across the nation, public and research colleges and universities are beginning to vaccinate or put in motion plans to vaccinate their students.

At the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, all 30,000 students are able to get vaccinated on campus. UNC plans to administer at least 2,000 doses per week. Similarly, the University of Arizona is dishing out 4,000 shots per day to its student body. The University of Texas at Austin is starting to schedule student vaccination appointments on campus. These advances in vaccine rollout are in part due to good implementation of vaccinating other, more at-risk communities by the cities these schools are in. It’s important to note that D.C. is still struggling to vaccinate those who are most at-risk.

There are also examples of private institutions that have promised to require that students get vaccinated.

However, American University has yet to state that AU plans to vaccinate students when possible. In an email to the AU community on Jan. 14, President Sylvia Burwell simply said that AU “will not administer vaccines at this time.” After a period of silence from the University, in a student media briefing on April 8, Fanta Aw, the vice president of campus life and inclusive excellence, said that the University was beginning to explore options to assist students with vaccinations, but AU has not committed to a vaccine mandate at this time (administrators are still in talks about this). AU should make plans to either administer vaccines to us or help D.C. vaccinate its residents so we can get the vaccine quickly. It’s the least they can do since blindsiding us all in the fall. 

The University should also require vaccines in order to participate in the on-campus presence in the fall. Unvaccinated students (excluding those who medically cannot get vaccinated or do not have access in their home countries) are a threat to the herd-immunity we need to finally beat this pandemic. 

Burwell was the secretary of Health and Human Services before her time at AU, so she has the skills and connections to lead us through a safe transition back to campus. During her tenure at HHS, she worked hard to implement “Obamacare” and called for a bigger response to the opioid epidemic. I know that vaccines are hard to come by, as they’re controlled by the federal government, but it would be a significant step in the right direction if AU proposed some plans to get its students vaccinated when the time comes, even if it's after the spring semester. Many students still live in D.C. over the summer and will need to be vaccinated. Steps need to be taken. It’s not right that AU is not being as communicative as it should be while students figure out their own vaccine plan. D.C.’s rollout has been relatively slow, as they were given fewer vaccines than states. The city also dealt with registration portal problems that allowed wealthier residents to snatch up vaccines before other D.C. residents.

AU should help us get vaccinated for many reasons. For one, students lack transportation to vaccination sites. Many sites are far away from AU’s campus. In addition, unvaccinated students pose a risk to D.C. residents, so it’s unfair to both the students and locals to leave us clamoring for vaccinations in our home states. Among the student body, there seems to be confusion as to whether we actually qualify for vaccines, and if we do, when we are eligible for them. While AU is probably not able to get their hands on vaccines, an email or any information from the administration that clarifies this or provides resources for registration would be a step in the right direction. The University can be a central source of information and even vaccination for students in states all over the country where roll out is at staggeringly different stages. 

AU has a responsibility to help get students, faculty and staff vaccinated. If the University plans to return to in-person instruction and provide students with the classic college experience, then they should be making moves to get us vaccinated. We can have a safe return to campus if everyone is vaccinated and everyone is required to be vaccinated. Not only would this ensure the safety of the students, faculty and staff, but it could also prove to be financially beneficial for the University: in-person instruction means that they could stop the tuition discounts and could charge full-price for room and board. This could provide the school with much-needed capital after a hard financial year. The University has a duty not only to us as students, but to the city as a whole, to get us vaccinated.

Riley Lorgus is a freshman in the College of Arts and Sciences and an opinion columnist for The Eagle.

rlorgus@theeagleonline.com

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