Georgetown University has a responsibility to ensure the health and safety of the entire campus community. The recent announcement from University President John J. DeGioia (CAS ’79, GRD ’95), which will require all students to receive a COVID-19 vaccine in order to return to campus in the fall, was definitely a welcome one.
After a long period of isolation, everyone is looking forward to returning to normalcy. Though the announcement was justified and many other universities in the Washington, D.C. metro area are following suit, it was slightly concerning for a few other reasons.
Most importantly, the university left vaccine requirements for faculty and staff open-ended. Instead of certifying that Georgetown will be a fully vaccinated community, we were left with one vague statement: “We are closely reviewing whether we will establish a vaccine requirement for faculty and staff.” It has been three weeks since the announcement came out, and it’s important this issue doesn’t escape the memory of the Georgetown community. The question of a vaccine requirement for faculty and staff cannot be left unanswered.
Unfortunately, this indecision is a trend emerging among many institutions across the country, particularly those who have already required vaccinations for students. Though many private universities were quick to require their students to receive vaccines, a much smaller number of them have taken similar action on requirements for their faculty and staff.
It’s understandable that a university might treat paid employees differently than paying students, but there is no significant reason employees of the university shouldn’t be held to the same immunization standards as students, especially since they make up a significant portion of the campus community. Moreover, immunization requirements for the flu already exist for university professors and workers at other institutions, though it is unclear whether these requirements are in place at Georgetown.
There are no legal barriers preventing universities from mandating the COVID-19 vaccine, too. In fact, the University of Portland pioneered the action by requiring vaccinations for all students, faculty and staff. Portland also stated it will take an active role in the process of facilitating vaccinations and distributing them among its campus community members, something Georgetown also must consider.
Noticeably absent from Georgetown’s announcement was any mention of how the administration will aid in the vaccination process. Though our country has reached a point where every adult is eligible to receive a vaccine, that does not mean it is necessarily easy to get one. Georgetown has a responsibility to help all of its community members access vaccinations. The university should implement instructional campaigns about signing up for vaccines, live updates on vaccination openings through email and text updates, and if possible, even some sort of university-led vaccination program for campus community members through the Medstar Georgetown University Hospital.
Georgetown has suggested it may engage in a hospital vaccination program like this in the future, but in order to be truly effective, these changes are needed as soon as possible. These are all actions well within the scope of what the university is capable of, and they would help ensure we have the safest community possible when the fall semester arrives.
Along with the difficulty of finding vaccines, lots of fearmongering is still spreading across the country through social media and disinformation, which has been discouraging people from taking the vaccine even if they have access to one. In order to prevent vaccine hesitancy within our community, Georgetown could establish information campaigns to combat any common disinformation and assure students about the safety and efficacy of the vaccine. Actions and campaigns like these would have a considerable impact on the number of students, faculty and workers who are comfortable getting the vaccine.
If we truly want to return to normal life, we must have a fully vaccinated campus. This includes everyone who contributes meaningfully to our community, including every person employed by the university. With a fully vaccinated campus, we will still be able to ensure the health and safety of the community without adhering to safety measures that will keep us in isolation. Mask mandates and social distancing measures wouldn’t need to be put in place. College life would start to feel normal again, and more importantly, the university could guarantee students a safe living environment and staff a safe working environment.
We all want a return to normalcy, and whether or not we get one is in the hands of the administration. Hopefully, they make the correct decision.
John O’Connor is a sophomore in the College.