WHITE: Innoculate or vacate – make Vandy vaccination mandatory

The COVID-19 vaccine should be mandatory for Fall 2021.


Alexa White

The more Vanderbilt students vaccinated, the better. (Hustler Staff/Alexa White)

Alexa White, Staff Writer

It’s almost hard to imagine it. You wake up, roll out of bed, get ready for the day. You grab three things as you leave your dorm: phone, wallet, keys. No mask. Everyone on campus is vaccinated and herd immunity has been achieved, thanks to the administration’s dedication to high-quality in-person learning as well as in-person social activities. 

This is a very possible future for Vanderbilt. 

There are over thirty colleges and universities, including Brown, Cornell and Duke that plan on requiring the vaccine for the fall 2021 semester. However, Vanderbilt is not yet one of those universities. 

The vaccine is widely available, free, and there is plenty of time for students to get it over the summer. The goal of mandatory vaccination is to ensure the safety of students, faculty and staff, and the earlier Vanderbilt makes this decision, the more time students will have to get vaccinated or to go through the proper avenues to qualify for a religious or health-related exemption. 

There will certainly be some snags for students as they try to get vaccinated. Those that return to rural areas may have to travel further to get vaccinated, and international students may have different access to the vaccine than domestic students do. Those that need exemptions for a variety of reasons need time to get the proper documentation as well. Thus, Vanderbilt needs to make this call early to ensure these students can comply with the policy. 

Most Vandy students agree that we have not been getting the Vanderbilt education that we have paid for this past year. The weekly poll on the Hustler website found that only 12 percent of students thought that they got the education they paid for this school year. If we want to return to in-person activities and high-quality classes where we can easily interact with our peers, Vanderbilt needs to prioritize vaccination. 

Right now the university is “strongly encourag(ing)” the vaccine for students, but they have not made public any ideation on making this a mandatory requirement. In an email to students on April 22, G.L. Black, Assistant Provost and Deputy Dean of Students, wrote that vaccination numbers within the student population would inform the university’s fall 2021 plan for returning to campus. 

While strong encouragement may be enough for some students to get the vaccine, mandatory vaccination is the clearest shot to herd immunity and safety for students and faculty on campus. For a lot of students, this will be the push they need to get the vaccine.

Among the colleges and universities that are requiring the vaccine is Duke University, one of Vanderbilt’s close-matched peer universities. Duke posted a statement on April 9 announcing their plan to require vaccinations in the coming year: “we plan to require all new and returning Duke students to present proof of vaccination to Student Health before they can enroll for the Fall 2021 semester.” If a university of a similar caliber and class size to Vanderbilt has made its decision to prioritize the health and education of its students, why has Vanderbilt not followed suit? 

In an April 23 debrief, Chancellor Diermeier said his goal for next year was “to be as close to normal as we can,” and the only way we can accomplish that is to give students ample time to get vaccinated. The administration’s current view on vaccination is that they would “like to wait until the FDA makes a decision on approving these vaccines,” but that could take an indefinite amount of time (the timeline for vaccine approval by the FDA can sometimes take years) and leave students with sub-par educations, as well as potentially getting a life-threatening disease. 

Such a vaccine requirement would not be unique. If you attended public school in the U.S. in the past few decades, you likely had the same required immunization forms for other viruses and diseases such as Poliomyelitis, Measles and Tetanus. All fifty states require vaccinations for students enrolled in public schools, with similar exemptions for religious and health reasons. Vanderbilt has even fewer obstacles in its way to requiring vaccines because it is a private university and has in the past even held mass flu vaccination events. 

Barring documented health and religious exemptions, I hope to see every student on campus vaccinated by next semester. There are certainly going to be people who are frustrated with this requirement if Vanderbilt chooses to require the COVID-19 vaccine along with the others it already requires. However, there will be some form of opposition to any meaningful piece of legislation. 

If we want to return to any semblance of “normal,” as Chancellor Diermeier claims the administration’s goal is, we need Vanderbilt to come out and require vaccinations for Fall 2021. The sooner, the better.