Why, America? More and more I have asked this question to myself as I read through the hideous headlines about COVID-19, almost all pertaining to the problem the unvaccinated have caused. It has never made sense to me, even before the pandemic, why some folks legitimately do not trust vaccines. Even with experts and statistical data affirming the vaccine's success, anti-vaxxers consistently have an endless list of excuses to sharply defend their reservations.
The baseless skepticism of the unvaccinated displays anti-vaxxers’ ignorance in comprehending the consequences of their actions. As someone who is fully vaccinated, I know I do not stand alone with feelings of anger and frustration that these stubborn people will not subject themselves for the good of the public. As COVID-19 variants have adapted, the choices of the unvaccinated have forced institutions and societies around the country to alter their safety protocols for the benefit of the unvaccinated.
We at UW-Madison have seen this recently, as the incentive to get vaccinated — disguised as a promise for a regular school year — turned out to be empty.
In yet another letdown for a majority of students, UW-Madison reinstituted the indoor mask mandate as of Aug. 5, 2021. One of the only reasons many students cared for virtual education during the 2020 to 2021 academic year was because students held hope that these restrictions would somehow, at some time, bring upon a sense of normalcy. But, the brightness felt after clicking “leave” on the final Zoom call of the year was quickly snatched by the updated mandate.
Let it be clear, this decision made by the university was not the only option available. Fellow Big Ten school Indiana University at Bloomington recently released a vaccine mandate, requiring vaccinations for all undergraduate students planning to be on campus this fall. This decision was remarkable coming from a university in a predominantly Republican state, of which the majority party has holistically had a shortfall in their efforts against COVID-19. More notable, however, Indiana University’s decision was dismissed by the Supreme Court when a group of students thought their rights were infringed upon by this mandate.
The dismissal of the case has huge implications for students and universities around the country, potentially setting the precedent for legalized vaccination requirements. In fact, the right to refuse required vaccinations is not constitutionally protected, precedent by Jacobson v. Massachusetts. With these legal bearings in place, I seriously question the university’s judgment in reviving the mask mandate for all students, regardless of vaccination status.
The student body boasts extremely high vaccination levels, with over 80% of undergraduate students expected to be vaccinated this fall. Nonetheless, the university dismissed this fact, using the 111.3% rise in COVID-19 cases, largely from the Delta variant, as requisite.
But, it has gotten to a point in this pandemic where using case numbers as justification for policy-making is wrong. As we have seen, fully vaccinated individuals lack a strong contagion defense from the nuanced Delta variant but still obtain protection from severe illness. Any logical person can realize that protecting against hospitalization and death is far more important than contraction rates, as COVID-19 only became worrisome due to its high rates of fatality.
So, I question why it matters when someone who is fully vaccinated contracts COVID-19 anymore? Why is someone who is vaccinated still subjected to COVID-19 protocols when they have a similar chance at fatal or severe illness as someone who contracts influenza, a virus with zero restrictive protocols? Is it still treated as a life or death situation because of the worries for unvaccinated lives? I find that these questions apply to the members of our campus that are still fixated on the virus’ fatal impact when the pandemic began, where there was zero protection for our health.
Yet, to say that contagion still matters because of the threat to unvaccinated lives is inherently wrong. The unvaccinated have had ample chances to get vaccinated at no cost. In fact, the country’s desperation to heighten vaccine levels have led to the addition of a hundred dollar stipend (in some cases) for the newly vaccinated.
Undeniably, the decision to remain unvaccinated is self-inflicted. The logic in forcing the vaccinated folk to maintain strict safety protocols that are just to keep the unvaccinated healthy is flawed and unfair.
Even so, 70.4% of Dane County residents have at least one shot. If the risk is not prevalent for both Dane County and the university, of which the two were the primary reasons for last year’s restrictions at UW-Madison, it seems obvious that UW-Madison officials have declared a mask mandate for one reason: to appear politically correct.
Still, UW-Madison’s decision has some merit with the scientific community. As the Delta variant has recently become responsible for most of the COVID-19 cases, there is a fear that other variants will become more prevalent, and thus reduce the efficacy of the vaccines. This idea is a ways away though; as things stand, there remains discord among expert virologists as to whether the virus can become more deadly, making forced restrictions on the vaccinated completely unjust.
Instead, require vaccines. Make people get protected from the virus so that more mutations cannot be created.
Individual fears about the vaccine are somewhat valid, but these fears need to come second to protecting yourself and those around you. We, as a society, need to go back to a world where vaccines were the key to normalcy, not another series of stringent restrictions. If vaccination rates maintain this plateau-like state, we, as a student body, can say farewell to a normal school year. So, I ask those of us who have yet to protect themselves and subsequently our campus, take the damn shot.
Ethan Wollins is a rising sophomore studying Political Science and Journalism. Do you agree that the unvaccinated are compromising school normalcy? Send all comments to firstname.lastname@example.org