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Op-ed: Returning to campus safely requires mandatory vaccination

Dear members of the Carolina community:

Last Wednesday, Aug. 4, the Faculty Executive Committee met and supported a resolution asking the UNC System to delegate authority to our Chancellor and Provost to make decisions for the well-being of our campus, including mandating vaccinations for all. Public health experts on our campus and well beyond are in favor of mandating vaccinations on university campuses. Immediately after the FEC meeting, the UNC System required that everyone on any UNC System campus get vaccinated or begin weekly testing for COVID-19. This includes faculty and staff, who have a deadline of Sept. 15 to submit their vaccine attestation to be exempt from weekly testing at UNC-Chapel Hill.

Perhaps they thought this announcement would put to rest concerns on our campus or make them appear responsive to our resolution. It does not.

Although the new “test or vaccinate” mandate is better than nothing, given the extraordinarily contagious nature of the delta variant, it is wholly insufficient. Vaccination mandates for everyone, implemented at public universities such as the Universities of Michigan, Indiana and Minnesota among others, would provide the fastest route to a safe and “normal” fall semester. Yet, because the UNC System has prevented us from acting earlier, either policy now needs time to work.

Accordingly, our campus needs authority for mitigation measures such as remote learning for three or four weeks to get the campus to a 95% vaccination rate. Yet I am told there is “no appetite for remote learning at the system level.” Why? A few weeks of remote instruction would allow our campus to get more people vaccinated and get that information into the attestation system so that we know exactly what the vaccination rate is on our campus.

We realize that the virus is not going to go away. We are moving from a pandemic to an endemic state. But the delta variant is not benign. Hospitals, including our local hospitals, are filling with unvaccinated 20-, 30- and 40-year-old people, and the rise in pediatric cases requiring hospitalization is alarming. In contrast with the seasonal flu, something we consider endemic, children under 12 cannot yet be vaccinated for COVID-19. Infants can get a flu vaccine starting at six months of age. If children are not eligible for vaccination, we cannot think of COVID-19 as something we simply live with.

Vaccination, masking, gathering limits and periods of remote learning are the tools we need to keep our campus and our families safe. The UNC System should be doing everything in its power to allow us to do that. For President Hans and the Board of Governors to put us in this position again, after what we went through as a campus last fall, is unconscionable. What interest could it possibly serve?

Everyone on this campus is working hard to handle what will come our way. But we are operating with hands tied behind our back if we cannot freely use all the tools at our disposal. If the UNC System really wants a successful fall semester, then provide this campus with delegated authority to make our own public health decisions. The clock is ticking, and we are waiting.

Mimi Chapman, MSW, PhD

Frank A. Daniels Distinguished Professor for Human Service Policy Information

Associate Dean for Doctoral Education

School of Social Work

Chair of the Faculty

Katie Musgrove

Business Officer

Clinical Programs

School of Law

Chair of the Employee Forum

Lamar Gregory Richards

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Public Policy and Human Leadership Development, Class of 2023

Vice Chair, UNC System Council of Student Body Presidents

President of the Student Body. UNC Chapel Hill

Neel Swamy

PharmD/MPH Candidate, Class of 2023

President, Graduate and Professional Student Government