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School vaccine wars

University vaccine mandates stoke concerns about emergency health powers


Suffolk County Community College students prepare to get vaccinated in Brentwood, N.Y. Associated Press/Photo by Michael M. Santiago (file)

School vaccine wars

Robin Yates said her 21-year-old son made his own decision about whether to be vaccinated before starting his senior year at North Carolina’s Wake Forest University. But she and other Wake Forest parents are concerned about the pressure put on students to get a COVID-19 shot. “There are kids that are wondering what is that going to look like when I return to school,” said the Florida resident. “They know what it was like to never really be free to be seen without a mask … to be completely severed from any sense of community,” she said, so in respect to getting the vaccine, “they may feel like they don’t have a choice.”

Wake Forest is among more than 600 public and private universities requiring students to get a vaccine as a condition of enrollment for the fall semester, The Chronicle of Higher Education reports. Most provide medical and religious exemptions, but the process for requesting one can be frustrating. And some students say the ramifications—such as masking, social distancing, and weekly testing—are demeaning. Yates said most students are unwilling to make themselves a target of criticism by voicing their concerns about vaccines.

But not all are so reticent. Two undergraduate students at the Los Angeles-area Loyola Marymount University filed a federal lawsuit on July 24 claiming the university’s treatment of vaccine-exempted students creates a “campus-wide apartheid.” Ryan Khanthaphixay and Riley O’Neal accuse the school of unconstitutionally requiring unvaccinated students to live in separate dorms, wear masks, social distance, submit to health surveillance, and undergo weekly testing while vaccinated peers can move freely.

The students are seeking a court order blocking the Catholic university’s mandate, claiming the differential treatment violates the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. They contend that the school has no basis for treating them differently when students exempt from measles, mumps, or rubella vaccines are not subject to any similar requirements.

“These two students are not alone,” said their attorney, Robert Tyler. “There are many other students being harmed by LMU’s discriminatory policy, but they are afraid to have a light shined on them because they do not want to suffer even greater retaliation by the university.”

Conflict between vaccine mandates and liberty concerns echoes the early pandemic tension between churches’ worship services and health officials’ emergency gathering bans. A federal court upheld Indiana University’s vaccine mandate in a July 18 order focusing on the delicate balance between constitutional rights and health concerns. It concluded that the eight students filing the action were not entitled to an order barring the university from implementing the vaccine policy.

The court rejected the argument that the school’s treatment of vaccine-exempt students was discriminatory. “On this record, the court finds no merit in the students’ contention that wearing masks essentially labels them with a ‘scarlet letter’ that targets them for religious bullying,” concluded U.S. District Judge Damon Leichty. “A student wearing a mask may well just be precautious in light of COVID-19 variants or because of immunosuppressing conditions.”


Steve West

Steve is a legal correspondent for WORLD. He is a graduate of World Journalism Institute, Wake Forest University School of Law, and N.C. State University. He worked for 34 years as a federal prosecutor and is now an attorney in private practice. Steve resides with his wife in Raleigh, N.C.

@slntplanet

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Heidi B

We have the studies and statistics about the vaccines. Where is the evidence for the effectiveness of masks? What are we basing mask mandates on? Science? Fear? Control?

NanamiroHeidi B

I agree. After a year and a half, you'd think they'd have some comprehensive, conclusive data about the efficacy of universal masking. I haven't seen any. I continue to get the feeling masking us helps the leaders to feel like they're at least doing SOMETHING.

Nanamiro

That is just terrible. Of course wearing a mask will be a "scarlet letter"! The mask has had a political/ideological message for the last year and a half. It will certainly have one in this case. What a foolish judge. Forcing young, low-risk, healthy people to take an experimental vaccine in order to continue their schooling without public shaming is just wrong.

Laura WNanamiro

There may be other valid reasons for opposing this policy, but as the judge pointed out, there are other reasons why someone might choose to wear a mask, so it doesn't identify the unvaccinated as such. I never really stopped wearing mine in public (initially for store workers' peace of mind, and now because of Delta). And I've been vaccinated for half a year now.

NanamiroLaura W

We need to choose to either trust the vaccines to do their job, or not trust them. Most college students have a statistically zero chance of dying of Covid-19. University personnel and high-risk people can be vaccinated if they choose. That should be sufficient. Eternal masking is ridiculous and only causes people to not trust vaccines. If the vaccines aren't effective enough to lose the mask, that is a different issue that should be addressed.

Laura WNanamiro

Why do we have seat belts if we have air bags? And then why have speed limits--isn't everyone already wearing seat belts? Same principle. I wear my mask to keep the people around me safe and out of hospitals. Also why I got vaccinated. (And no, I don't expect masking to be "eternal", but I'm willing to put up with the inconvenience for as long as it takes to get this thing under control.)

NanamiroLaura W

It's been over a year and half. Masks have not gotten this under control. New Jersey has been wearing masks since March 2020 and they have some of the worst infection and death rates in the country.
Forcing young people to take an experimental vaccine for a disease that is statistically harmless to them OR cover their faces in public for the foreseeable future is not acceptable to me.
Seatbelts and airbags protect the drivers and passengers wearing them or riding in their car, not the drivers and passengers of other cars. So it's a different situation. Just like we have a choice to wear a seatbelt or not, or own a car with airbags or not, I think we need to be able to make our own health and safety choices.

Laura WNanamiro

So should we have the choice whether to follow speed limits or not? The cases have been shooting up in my state lately. Hospitalizations too.