Wayne State will require the COVID-19 vaccine for all students, faculty and staff on campus this fall, President M. Roy Wilson announced in an email to the campus community Tuesday.
Wilson said the decision was made due to the threat of the Delta variant. This highly infectious strain of the COVID-19 virus currently accounts for more than 83% of new cases nationwide, according to The American Society for Microbiology.
“COVID-19 cases across the country are increasing, and the most recent positivity rate in our community has increased measurably – from 2.5 to 3.3%,” Wilson said. “This (Delta) variant spreads more easily and may be transmitted by vaccinated individuals with rare breakthrough cases.”
Vaccination helps prevent infection from the Delta variant, The Associated Press reported.
“It’s the most contagious coronavirus mutant so far in the pandemic, but COVID-19 vaccines still provide strong protection against it,” the AP said. “Nearly all hospitalizations and deaths are among the unvaccinated.”
WSU Associate Director of Communications Ted Montgomery said the university thinks a campus wide vaccine mandate is needed to protect public health.
“We are mandating the vaccine now because it is the best way to ensure the health and safety of our campus community,” he said. “We've had a positive response to our recommendations to get vaccinated but we really need to get as close to 100% vaccinated on our campus as we can.”
WSU issued a targeted vaccine mandate on July 26, requiring campus residents to be vaccinated this fall.
Several other universities in Michigan have also mandated the COVID-19 vaccine. The University of Michigan and Michigan State University will each require students, faculty and staff on campus to be vaccinated this fall, the Detroit News reported.
Incoming freshman Javier Martinez said he feels safer because of the mandate.
“It’s not that hard to get vaccinated, plus it helps stop the spread of covid, so people would be doing themselves a favor as well as those around them (by getting vaccinated),” he said.
Computer Science Lecturer Dan Ouellette said he opposes the mandate and WSU is ignoring portions of the university’s population by enacting it.
“Rather than being leaders, I think Wayne State administration followed the academic herd with their decision,” he said. “Science is not being followed when a mandate only considers vaccination status. A percentage of the campus community that are unvaccinated but survived the COVID-19 virus do not need to be vaccinated. The Wayne State mandate does not take into account the unvaccinated who have already had the virus.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, those who have previously been infected with COVID-19 should still get vaccinated.
“Experts do not yet know how long you are protected from getting sick again after recovering from COVID-19. Even if you have already recovered from COVID-19, it is possible—although rare—that you could be infected with the virus that causes COVID-19 again,” The CDC said.
WSU student organization Herd Immunity has been promoting a petition in favor of a vaccine mandate throughout the summer, said President Yasmine Affes. Assistant Professor of Economics and Pharmacy Practice Fabrice Smieliauskas created the petition and reached out to the student organization to help promote it.
According to a statement provided by Herd Immunity’s board, members support the university’s decision.
“We believe the COVID-19 vaccine mandate by Wayne State University is a proactive measure to protect our college campus as well as the homes of our students and employees,” the Herd Immunity board said. “Taking initiative now will lead us to the normalcy we have all been waiting for.”
WSU will also reinstate an indoor mask mandate on campus, Wilson said. Mask requirements had previously been relaxed in June, requiring only unvaccinated people to mask indoors.
“Beginning today through Sept. 15, however, when we can be more confident in our overall vaccination status, masks will be required indoors for everyone, regardless of vaccination status,” he said. “At that point, we will revisit the mask requirement, and hopefully eliminate it. We recognize that this is inconvenient, but it is temporary, and more important, safe.”
WSU is also currently holding its second vaccine incentive program to encourage community members to get vaccinated. Rewards include a series of raffle prizes for students, faculty and staff who submit proof of vaccination by Aug. 29.
The deadline to submit electronic proof of vaccination status under the campus wide vaccine mandate is Aug. 30. A vaccine waiver can be submitted for those with legitimate health or religious exceptions, Wilson said.
“WSU students, faculty and staff who knowingly violate this mandate and come to campus unvaccinated after Aug. 30, potentially jeopardizing the health of others, will face consequences,” he said.
Amelia Benavides-Colón is a contributing writer for The South End. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Cover photo by Quinn Banks, The South End's multimedia editor. He can be reached at email@example.com.