By Sam Heyliger
Following the actions of other colleges and universities around the country, St. Michael’s College is requiring students to receive the COVID vaccine for the next academic year and for those who will live on campus this summer. However, those who can’t receive the vaccine for health or religious reasons will need to contact Bergeron to be able to return without it, as stated in an email sent from the Office of Student Life on April 23.
“St. Michael’s joins a growing list of colleges and universities requiring an updated COVID-19 vaccine to help ensure that the campus is safe and can resume normal operations when appropriate and to protect those who cannot be vaccinated due to medical or religious reasons,” according to the email.
The spring semester has been marked by rising tensions among students and administration over COVID restrictions, and the looming possibility of returning to normalcy next fall.
“This pandemic has affected millions and caused untimely deaths to over 3,000,000 people worldwide. No country was spared,” said Mary Masson, director of student health services, following the College’s decision. “In spite of all efforts to limit the spread of this deadly virus, only widespread vaccination offered the hope of ending such a life changing event in our lives,” she explained.
St. Michael’s made its decision amongst a wave of other colleges within the last month. Rutgers University in New Jersey was one of the first schools to require vaccines for people returning to campus next fall. “We are committed to health and safety for all members of our community, and adding COVID-19 vaccination to our student immunization requirements will help provide a safer and more robust college experience for our students,” said Rutgers president Jonathan Hathaway in a statement released on the college website in March.
Following Rutgers’ announcement to require vaccinations next fall, dozens of other colleges and universities around the country have made the same decision, including Cornell, Duke, and Brown University. As more students around the country are getting vaccinated following the nationwide opening for registration on April 19, more colleges are adding the COVID-19 vaccines to their required list of vaccinations.
“The school already requires other vaccinations, what’s one more?” said Colleen Tubridy ‘22. It’s available to everyone as of now. Yes, some appointments you may have to wait until July but can be fully vaccinated by August. I understand completely that some people cannot get vaccinated because of allergies.”
The Office of Student Life announced the College’s decision nearly one month after Rutgers. “The decision to require the COVID-19 vaccine for students at St. Michael’s was made by the Vice Presidents and President of the College with advice and feedback from both those integrally working on the response to this pandemic and the expert scientists both in the state and beyond,” Masson said.
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, more than half a million people in the United States have died from the virus. By choosing to require a vaccine for students in the fall, the College is hoping to shift away from the unfortunate possibility of another wave next semester. “Saint Michael’s is mandating students to be vaccinated this summer and onward. Our goal is that life on campus will return to normal with a vaccinated campus,” said Dawn Ellinwood, vice president of student affairs.
However, with the brief halt of the distribution of Johnson and Johnson vaccines in April, vaccination hesitancy lingers. “We know that there are inherent risks in everything we do. The risks of getting COVID far outweigh the small risks and side effects from the developed vaccines. For instance, between one and six months after getting sick, patients who had COVID-19 still carry a 60% higher risk of death than those patients that never had Covid-19,” Masson said.
With the spring semester almost over and summer approaching, the College is planning ahead for next Fall hoping to ease restrictions as safely as possible in a timely manner.
“With the development of a safe and effective vaccine, we now have hope of seeing a college campus close to the one we knew in 2019. One where friends can be with each other without the fear of contracting a virus. One where people won’t have to quarantine or possibly mask all the time. One where we can live, work and learn together as a community again,” Masson said.
COVID restrictions on campus this fall, however, are still up in the air. It could be too early to make any real decisions, Masson continued. “We still have a lot of unknowns and don’t know what next Fall and winter may look like. We suspect the vaccine may require some sort of booster at some point. But we do know that life will be less restrictive when we are vaccinated and keeping ourselves and those we love safe.”
Students and faculty at St. Michael’s College have been living with COVID restrictions on campus throughout this entire academic year, so possible change in restrictions following a vaccine requirement could be a motivator for returning students and faculty. “I personally think that we all should be vaccinated because of all of the different times that we’ve had to quarantine for different reasons. I think that that could help lower that. I just think it would be better for us all,” said Mary Leyes ’24.
While the fall semester’s guidelines still remain unclear, the vaccine requirement is a step towards college life without COVID, and will impact everyone at St. Michael’s.
If you have any questions about the COVID-19 vaccine, email or call the Bergeron Wellness Center at (802) 654-2234 for more information.