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Thursday December 2nd

'We have ideas and we want to improve': Vaccinate UNC Now rallies for vaccine mandate

UNC sophomore Luke Diasio, who helped plan the all-day protest, holds up a sign saying "Vax UNC Now" advocating for UNC to mandate COVID-19 vaccines. "The goal today is to show that students do want a mandate," said Diasio.
Buy Photos UNC sophomore Luke Diasio, who helped plan the all-day protest, holds up a sign saying "Vax UNC Now" advocating for UNC to mandate COVID-19 vaccines. "The goal today is to show that students do want a mandate," said Diasio.

Vaccinate UNC Now held its second rally of the semester on Friday.

The student-run organization is advocating for the approval of a vaccine mandate for UNC students. Attendees of the rally stood outside Wilson Library as part of a continuous effort to push for a mandate after the University failed to meet this demand by its original deadline of Sept. 20.

Vaccinate UNC Now organizers handed out letters that students could sign and hand-deliver to South Building, which houses the chancellor's office. They also handed out “Vax UNC Now” buttons and had QR codes that students could scan to send prewritten email petitions to University administration.

“Part of the reason for why we're doing this second protest is that we have a pretty extensive list of reasons and things that we would like to happen,” sophomore Luke Diasio, one of the event organizers, said. “After the last protest, UNC sort of dismissed (it), saying that they just thought they didn't have the legal authority to do it.”

In addition to a student vaccine mandate, the organization listed other demands on its petition, such as a request that unvaccinated students and students who are unable to produce proof of vaccination remain off campus. It also requested a vaccine requirement for faculty and staff. The full list of issues and demands can be found here.

As of Monday, 93 percent of students, over 93 percent of faculty and over 83 percent of staff have attested that they are vaccinated, according to UNC's COVID-19 dashboard. 

But some students, like senior Kaylee Tackett, do not trust the attestation rate shown on the dashboard.

“I want a vaccine mandate because I don’t trust the attestation rate to be truly reflective of the vaccinated population, and we need to use all the available tools to protect us from COVID,” Tackett said. “If the attestation rate is so high, then why would mandating the vaccine be an issue?”

Diasio said if the University cannot mandate a vaccine, then it should require uploading physical proof of vaccination, which is currently optional for students.

According to a statement from UNC Media Relations, the University has been doing weekly random audits and has not found students who have falsified their information.

If the University is unable to verify a student’s attestation through the audit process, it could be due to a number of reasons, such as data entry errors, which would not necessarily mean a student falsified information, according to Media Relations.

The University will follow up if it has questions about a student's information. If UNC is unable to verify a student’s information, that student will be required to test twice weekly through the Carolina Together Testing Program, Media Relations said.

Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz said in an August interview with The Daily Tar Heel that he is in favor of a vaccine mandate, but that UNC does not have the authority to mandate the vaccine.

"We have had these conversations at the System level, healthy conversations around it," Guskiewicz said at an Aug. 30 Faculty Executive Committee meeting. "We’ve been told to be prepared that should there be a mandate that would come down from the Commission on Public Health, which could make that mandate at some point, we are prepared for that.” 

Alexander Denza, a sophomore and one of the event organizers, said that although the University has reported high vaccination and attestation rates, it has not done enough work with students to understand health concerns. 

“During the Student Government meeting, they called this a publicity stunt,” Denza said. “It’s about feeling like we’re in an environment that isn’t pushing health issues that have larger effects to the side."

After being sent home soon after his first day on campus in 2020, Diasio said COVID-19 ruined his first-year experience. He said he hopes the administration will take his and other community members' concerns into account.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated Alexander Denza's title. He was one of the organizers of the Vaccinate UNC Now rally. The Daily Tar Heel apologizes for this error.

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