Campus-Wide Campaign Urges Vaccination, Followed by Upload
Returning to normal requires both actions by students
After more than a year of living at an unnatural distance from many of the things we love, what is the good thing that you are most looking forward to when we return to near normal? That’s what a new Boston University campaign, initiated by the University’s Medical Advisory Group and Vaccine Preparedness Group, is asking everyone in the BU community to think about. The campaign, aimed at urging faculty, staff, and students to get vaccinated and upload documentation of their shots to BU health officials, began last week with posters and digital messages that offer 10 suggestions of things we might miss most (for example, travel, hugs, and movies).
Kim Buyannemekh (CAS’22), says she looks forward to seeing her friends in large group settings, and also “the routine of walking from class to class and all of the small interactions I would have in my classes with my peers.”
Amanda Kong (COM’22) can’t wait for the return of in-person classes. “I miss random interactions between classmates and actually knowing my professors,” she says.
Garrett Adamstev (COM’24) most misses in-person theater. “I’ve been in two Zoom shows over the school year and they’ve been great fun,” he says, “but they obviously lack the oomph of live performance.”
In fact, for students who hope to attend classes next fall and don’t have medical or religious reasons to forgo vaccination, the decision to get vaccinated is no longer an option. BU is one of about 50 colleges and universities nationwide requiring all students enrolled in the fall to be vaccinated—a list being tracked by the Chronicle of Higher Education that continues to grow. Many schools, including BU, are also weighing a similar mandate for faculty and staff. Students are required to upload documentation of their vaccination to BU’s Healthway as soon as they are vaccinated. Faculty and staff are encouraged to get vaccinated and upload documentation. BU officials have also said that merely getting vaccinated is not a signal for students to drop their safety protocols and that the campus must achieve a level of herd immunity for measures to be relaxed.
As more schools move to a mandate, it’s sparked some debate between students and families who object to a vaccine requirement in order to attend classes in person and college leaders who say that it’s no different than existing, long-standing requirements that students must show proof that they have been vaccinated for chicken pox, measles, or mumps.
Eileen O’Keefe, a College of Health & Rehabilitation Sciences: Sargent College clinical professor of health sciences and chair of the Faculty Council, says faculty members are uniformly enthusiastic in their support for vaccination for the entire University community and for uploading this documentation. “Many Council members are parents of college-aged children,” says O’Keefe. “They agree that it’s important for parents to know that the community their child will be living in has been vaccinated, too.”
Waivers of the vaccination requirement will be available for those who have medical contraindications or religious objections to the vaccine. The University is currently assessing how to treat vaccinations received by international students in other countries.
Davidson Hamer, a School of Public Health professor of global health, a School of Medicine professor of medicine, and an infectious disease expert at BU’s National Emerging Infectious Diseases Laboratories, says the community can return to a new normal only if it has a high vaccination rate.
Hamer says the vaccine offers benefits both for individuals and communities. For individuals, it prevents severe COVID-19 cases, which often require hospitalization, and prevents the long-lasting effects of “long COVID”—a condition where symptoms linger for weeks or months after the onset of COVID-19. It also frees community members from some of the constraints that the University put in place over the past year, following guidance from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Massachusetts public health officials. For example, vaccinated people who are identified as a close contact of an infected person do not have to quarantine, while unvaccinated people must still quarantine. And vaccinated people who travel domestically do not have to quarantine when they return to Massachusetts.
Hamer says the “upload” message is also critically important, because University health officials need to know what kind of health protocols are required for a safe campus. “Knowing how many people in the community have been vaccinated will help us decide the intensity of other measures,” he says. “That includes the frequency of surveillance testing and the re-densification of classrooms and other public spaces.”
Understanding the vaccination rate of the community will also tell officials how close we are to the goal of herd immunity. “Ideally,” Hamer says, “we would like to have at least 80 percent and perhaps 90 percent of the campus population immunized or immune from a prior infection.”
The campaign will continue through the summer months with a social media push that will include student takeovers and personal stories aimed at dispelling vaccination myths and vaccine hesitancy. While most students appear eager to be vaccinated, and as of April 19, anyone age 16 or older is eligible for a vaccine in Massachusetts, national polls reveal a lingering widespread resistance to getting a vaccine, with a clear divide along political lines. A Monmouth University poll released last week found that 43 percent of Republicans said they wanted to avoid the vaccine altogether, while only 5 percent of Democrats and 22 percent of Independents felt the same way.