By mandating the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine for students in the Fall 2021 semester, Rutgers is taking the right step to ensure that all members of the community can work and study in a safe environment.
Like all other colleges more than a year ago, Rutgers shut down and moved to a completely remote format as the COVID-19 pandemic ravaged New Jersey. Since then, schools have begun reintroducing aspects of in-person life, such as housing, limited classes and reopening common spaces on campus.
Unlike most of its counterparts, Rutgers has been hesitant to do so. In-person classes and on-campus housing have increased to some extent, but nowhere near their pre-pandemic levels, with only 3,124 students living on campus in this semester. As a result of this, the University has reported a relatively low COVID-19 rate since it began its testing program in May 2020, with just 1.26 percent of the 186,280 total tests coming back positive.
Of course, the COVID-19 response at Rutgers has not been perfect. The University had issues with COVID-19 compliance among students living off-campus, and many faculty and staff have been quick to point out concerns with their working conditions. Outside of health and safety, much is to be desired in regard to the University’s handling of tuition, finances and faculty layoffs during the course of the pandemic.
Regardless of the challenges, the University has emphasized overall the importance of health restrictions while taking a cautious approach to reopening. These decisions have created an understanding among the Rutgers community that the impacts of COVID-19 are far-reaching and require a collective, unified response. Requiring students to get vaccinated is the logical next step in the University’s road to recovery.
While preventing yourself and your loved ones from becoming severely ill — or potentially dying — should be enough to motivate you to get vaccinated, more science is coming out regarding the longer-term effects of the vaccine.
Becky Smith, an associate professor of medicine at Duke University, said the vaccine can help reduce one’s “viral load,” which makes it harder to transmit COVID-19, according to NBC News. Reducing transmission is especially important amid the high number of asymptomatic COVID-19 cases.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious disease expert, said vaccines can not only stop the regular COVID-19 strain from reproducing, but also prevent newer and potentially more dangerous mutations from emerging.
“Viruses cannot mutate if they do not replicate. And if you stop their replication by vaccinating widely and not giving the virus an open playing field to continue to respond to the pressures that you put on it, you will not get mutations," Fauci told CNN.
In other words, vaccination is not simply a matter of personal protection, but of finally overcoming the pandemic. The end is in sight, but only if enough people get vaccinated and adhere to COVID-19 restrictions in the coming months.
Students must understand that even if they are vaccinated, mask-wearing, social distancing and regular COVID-19 testing will still be a part of our daily lives in the Fall 2021 semester. Vaccines are not perfect, but taking these precautions can provide an extra layer of protection for yourself and those around you.
Additionally, Rutgers has yet to disclose what the return to classes, housing, dining and other activities will actually look like. It is crucial that the University relays this information quickly so we can plan accordingly, but us students must also be flexible with whatever changes are made to our normal, pre-pandemic, on-campus routine.
To fully build a safe community, Rutgers must also work to provide vaccines for the greater areas of New Brunswick, Newark and Camden. Students and employees are not the only people living in these cities, and to limit the vaccination rollout to Rutgers affiliates only would be a disservice to these longtime residents, who are just as vital to our community as any student or teacher.
Students have already sacrificed so much this past year, and hearing promises that the pandemic is almost over might feel far-fetched. Put your community first and get vaccinated when the opportunity arises, and come to campus this fall with the understanding that so much will be different.
Hayley Slusser is the editor-in-chief of The Daily Targum.
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