Editorial: COVID-19 vaccines should be mandatory and provided by NIU

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A doctor holds a vaccine vial in their gloved hand.

As COVID-19 vaccines roll out in Phase 1B in Illinois, college students wait eagerly for their distribution in Phase 2 to go back to social events and a proper classroom setting. However, speculation continues to interject, and vaccines remain optional, so in-person classes look less appealing if NIU does not require vaccines to resume “normal” life in the fall semester.

Before attending college in Illinois, students must receive two measles, mumps and rubella vaccines; three vaccines that contain tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis; lastly, one meningococcal conjugate vaccine, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health

If NIU does not make the COVID-19 vaccine mandatory, in addition to the eight vaccines Illinois college students are required to get, in-person classes should remain optional. And if NIU does not have a system in place to ensure every student receives the vaccine, people should not be expected to attend class in person.

The Dean of Students sent an email on Wednesday, disclosing the intention to have a “normal” fall semester. Classes will be primarily face-to-face; in-person events will come back; roommates will be allowed; hybrid and online classes and virtual assistance will still be available; surveillance testing and Protecting the Pack responsibilities will continue.

While online classes will be available, vaccines are merely encouraged. The email encourages students to wear a mask, wash hands and physical distance, as well as receive the vaccine when students are eligible.

At the start of the fall semester, NIU made it mandatory to get tested for COVID-19 before living in the residence halls on campus, but did not have any control over students living off campus or in Greek Life housing who might also be attending in-person classes. Cases began to surge despite these efforts.

NIU started to require surveillance testing once a week as of Feb. 1, according to an email by the Dean of Students. Surveillance testing requires selected students to periodically be tested at random to detect the virus if they haven’t already been tested and quarantined. 

Housing students, employees in residence halls, fully in-person class participants, Child Development and Family Center employees, student athletes and select staff in athletics and select HR employees are required to be tested when instructed by the university via email,  according to the Protecting the Pack Page.

NIU required students to get tested before coming back from winter break for the spring semester as well. The number of tests conducted was 1329, and 20 students tested positive. By detecting the virus in those 20, the university could’ve saved hundreds of students.

Just as NIU adapted to the pandemic by incorporating systems that monitor infection rates, the same attention should be given to ensure there is a system in place to give students the vaccine if they have not gotten it already. It should not be merely encouraged if “normalcy” is the goal. It should be required.