It’s not surprising that a letter is circulating asking Mississippi’s College Board to require students at all of the state’s eight public universities to be vaccinated before the fall semester begins.
What’s surprising is how few have signed the letter.
According to reporting this week by Mississippi Today, the letter, which was drafted by four colleagues at Mississippi State University, has been circulating online for a month. So far, 250 individuals have added their names to it. That’s less than one-half of 1 percent of the 100,000 faculty, staff and students in the state’s entire system of four-year colleges.
That doesn’t sound like a groundswell of support.
A pity, since the idea, while perhaps controversial is a good one.
Residents of college age are in one of the least vaccinated demographics in Mississippi. Less than one out of five persons age 18 to 24 are fully vaccinated. That’s one of the reasons Mississippi is the least vaccinated state in the nation.
The hesitation of that age group is based on a lot of factors, the prime one being that those in their late teens and early 20s usually don’t have serious illness when they contract COVID-19. Many of them also may believe, with some justification, they are already immune based on their previous exposure to the virus. Thus, their motivation to get the shots is low.
As the advocates for mandated vaccination point out, however, the students themselves aren’t the only ones about whom higher education officials should be concerned. Also put at risk could be the older folks who interact with the students — everyone from their professors to the janitorial staff.
Students tend to engage in behavior that facilitates transmission of the disease, coming frequently into close contact with their peers at school, in their living quarters and in their social life. That makes them perfect hosts and spreaders of the coronavirus. Even if they’ve acquired immunity naturally, who knows how strong that immunity might be or how long it will last.
Thus, it’s understandable why some professors and other university employees are a bit nervous, especially with speculation that Mississippi is primed to have a hard time from a fast-spreading COVID-19 variant.
The College Board is probably not going to be inclined to address the thorny question of mandating vaccination unless this signature drive picks up a lot of momentum quickly. The College Board is susceptible to political pressure, and Mississippi is a state that tends to resent government mandates, no matter how sensible or justified they might be.
So far, the College Board has tossed the potential hot potato back to the individual colleges, with a spokesperson saying the presidents have the authority — even if they did not realize it — to make the call about vaccination for their own campuses.
The approach, however, should not be piecemeal. If mandating vaccination against COVID-19 is medically justified for college students in Starkville, it’s also justified for those in Itta Bena and Cleveland.
Requiring vaccination is nothing new to Mississippi’s college campuses. Undergraduates are already required to show at least proof of immunity from measles and rubella before they can register for classes. Those studying to be doctors, dentists or nurses have to be vaccinated against several other diseases.
COVID-19, even in its current lull, poses as significant a risk as some of these others. Until that’s no longer the case, it would be prudent for the colleges and those who oversee them to treat it as such.
- The Greenwood Commonwealth