Editorial: NIU’s soft approach for vaccinations disappoints

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A clinician uses a syringe to inject a COVD-19 vaccine into a patient.

Last week, the university announced that students who received a personal exemption while COVID-19 vaccinations were under Emergency Use Authorization status are now required to get vaccinated – but they have until Nov. 1 to do so. 

The lax three-month time period students have to get vaccinated is disappointing. The requirement came after the Food and Drug Administration granted full approval to Pfizer-BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine for those 16 and older on Aug. 23. 

The FDA approval is supposed to be a game-changer for the millions of Americans who aren’t vaccinated and many students who may not be. But, when NIU allows students to delay getting vaccinated for personal reasons, it opens the campus to further risk of a COVID-19 outbreak. 

The Northern Star Editorial Board would expect more decisive action from NIU before the Delta variant creates a new outbreak on campus. Students, who haven’t requested an exemption for medical or religious reasons, should be required to get at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine in September, or they shouldn’t be allowed to attend in-person classes.

No one wants another semester of remote learning and of feeling disconnected from our friends and professors. We want to be there to attend in-person classes. We want to graduate in person. We want to have a normal college experience. 

Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced Thursday that all K-12 teachers and higher education employees and students must also get at least the first shot of a COVID-19 vaccine by Sept. 5 or participate in regular testing.

“Hospital staff are becoming overwhelmed and overburdened,” Pritzker said in a news conference Thursday. “People are dying who don’t have to die.”

Everyone is at risk of COVID-19 infection, hospitalization and serious long-term effects, but all of those outcomes can be reduced by vaccination.

In the first week of class, 25 students and four employees tested positive for COVID-19, according to the NIU COVID-19 dashboard. As of Friday, the Illinois Department of Public Health reported 4,942 new cases, the highest daily number reported since late January.

It’s about safety. Even NIU employees marched for safer COVID-19 protections in August after reaching an agreement with the administration to be able to pivot to remote learning if the COVID-19 positivity rate on campus reaches or exceeds 8%. 

The Northern Star Editorial Board understands NIU can’t force the COVID-19 vaccine on everyone in a totalitarian way. But, the least they could do is require a date for students who previously requested a personal exemption to be vaccinated at an earlier date than Nov. 1.

Take advantage of the resources on and off-campus, and get vaccinated as soon as you can. Find out where to get vaccinated near you at vaccines.gov.