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Sunday, December 03, 2023

COVID-19 vaccine mandate: A necessary precaution or an infringement on personal rights?

As college students, we don’t want to miss out on the irreplaceable experience of being on campus. We want to attend class, not only to hear them lecture but to form actual human interactions with them. We wish to communicate with our classmates and we most definitely want to party! However, with the rise of COVID-19, once ordinary realities transformed into wishful thinking — a distant memory.  

Due to this unexpected divergence, California became the first US state to mandate the COVID-19 vaccine for residents. "We want to end this pandemic. We are all exhausted by it," said California Gov. Gavin Newsom.

As soon as January 2022 begins, eligible K-12 students in California will be required to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. Currently, only 16-year-old students are required to get the vaccine, after approval was handed down from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Eventually, the FDA will approve the vaccination mandate for 12 to 15 year olds.

Unsurprisingly, this hasn’t come without backlash. The Sacramento Bee reported that hundreds of parents and families have taken to the streets of California to protest the school mandate, including mother of three Lindsay Bingham. According to Bingham, the vaccine mandate is “overreaching and crushing our parental rights and encroaching on the rights of educators.”

Such an overwhelming response reflects back on the legitimacy of this mandate. Is a vaccine mandate necessary in K-12 and higher education?

To answer this question, we need to evaluate the effects of COVID-19 in the U.S. and on Wisconsin. Currently, COVID-19 not only causes economic disparities but simultaneously widens the racial gap between races in America through disproportionately targeting specific races and classes.

In Wisconsin, about 75% of employees have mentioned that COVID-19 has negatively impacted their businesses. This is an overwhelming number of individuals who are having their lives drastically affected by this relentless pandemic.

In the New York Times, Max Fisher and Emma Bubola delineate the “mutually reinforcing cycle” between social inequality and the spread of COVID-19 — a cycle wherein each component influences and exacerbates the spread of the other. The article exemplifies the interconnectivity of both elements and highlights how social conditions can have implications on health. 

Specifically, one social aspect that ties into this article is socioeconomic status (SES). People with higher SES acquire increased accessibility to health-improving resources as well as enhanced decision making due to the availability of information on health risks. These factors shape the SES gradient in health which causes people at lower SES to have worse overall health.

To exemplify, when an SES gradient is present, people with low income, on average, report higher cases of health problems, such as heart diseases and diabetes. Not only that, but this disparity in health seems to exist within societies with national access to healthcare, proving that this inequity doesn’t simply stem from inaccessibility to healthcare but from other sources. Whether these are discriminatory mechanisms or material deprivations at play, the SES gradient makes it so that people with lower incomes are more likely to contract diseases. 

One factor to consider is that people with low income do not have the resources or the privilege to stay at home, as their survival depends on their daily jobs. This increases their exposure to the virus and puts them at higher risk. People with high SES also have more paid sick time at work while those with low SES do not have the luxury. This results in people with low income having to make monetary sacrifices, or lose money, due to not having paid sick leaves. Overall, this has caused those people to be 10% more likely to contract COVID-19.

It is clear that, if left to continue ravaging the country, the COVID-19 pandemic will continue to exaggerate these economic and racial disparities. In relating back to the California vaccine mandate, this is going to exacerbate education gaps. On school campuses, students that aren’t vaccinated are at a higher risk of getting sick and infecting others, risking their jobs and inevitably prolonging the pandemic.

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Mandating a vaccine in school campuses will not only reduce such disparities but also grant students the authentic college experience that they deserve. 

Despite the obvious benefits of the vaccine, it is important to highlight the concept of free will in this debate. As citizens, we have the liberty to make our own decisions. People have the right to choose whether they want to be vaccinated or not. However, people’s freedom of choice should not come without consequences. Freedom of choice is completely valid when it does not come at the expense of other people’s safety. However, remaining unvaccinated during an ongoing pandemic is not without risk for others, not just themselves. It is putting the lives of millions, especially those who are unable to get vaccinated, at critical risk. This conundrum is further exacerbated by the fact that those who are vaccinated are also in danger of contracting the disease, leaving no one completely out of the pandemic’s lethal reach. 

Thus, is mandating a vaccine infringing on people’s rights, or is it necessary for the world’s greater good? As society continues to descend into ongoing instability, the latter becomes more and more true. 

Abdullah Marei is a junior studying psychology. Do you agree that a vaccine mandate is a needed step in schools? Send all comments to

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