Lehigh to mandate COVID-19 vaccines next fall, uncertain if Lafayette will follow suit

Lehigh University is requiring return students to receive a vaccine approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. (Photo courtesy of Lehigh University)

As of May 12, the COVID-19 Dashboard shows a total of 1,392 students partially or fully vaccinated on campus. This number is likely higher due to students who were vaccinated outside of Lafayette and have not reported it to the college. But while Lafayette has yet to release a statement on if they plan to require a vaccine, Lehigh University is mandating all students returning to campus next fall to receive the COVID-19 vaccination.

“Achieving widespread vaccination is…an important step in allowing a more rapid return to normal activity on campus, including hosting larger in-person events and expanding options for dining and other activities,” the message sent to Lehigh students on April 21 read.

“Vaccination is shown to be safe and effective at stopping people from not only getting sick, but also preventing hospitalization and death,” Associate Director of Media Relations at Lehigh Amy White said. “Widespread vaccination will provide substantial protection for the Lehigh community and the broader population of Bethlehem.”

Currently, it is unclear if Lafayette will require vaccines for returning students next fall, but Public Health Director Jeffrey Goldstein and Vice President for Campus Life Annette Diorio have previously said that they do not foresee a situation in which students will be obligated to get a vaccine. But as more and more colleges across the country make the decision to mandate vaccination before next fall, this decision may be subject to change.

Meanwhile, many students on campus are enjoying the vaccinated life, and want their peers to do the same.

“I think that everyone that can get the vaccine should get the vaccine. It’s really our only path to going back to normal life,” said Fin Zakas ‘24. “I understand that there’s misinformation out there and misunderstandings about the vaccine, but really it’s very safe and they wouldn’t put it out there if it wasn’t safe.”

Alexa Sadowski ‘24 recalled how excited and relieved she was when she was able to get her first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

“My aunt, a Lafayette alumna, works for Pfizer, and it was very interesting to hear from her about the meticulous work of her colleagues,” Sadowski remarked. “I have full faith in the science and doctors backing the vaccine.”

“I am fully vaccinated and do believe the COVID-19 vaccines are effective,” an anonymous student affirmed.

Abby Skidmore ‘24 held similar sentiments, expressing her confidence in the vaccines. She added that fears over the previous pause on the Johnson & Johnson (J&J) vaccine have been exaggerated by the media, seeing as how the proportion of people who experienced blood clots is extremely small.

Federal officials from the Center for Disease Control confirmed on Wednesday that there have been 28 cases of blood clots and 3 deaths potentially linked to the J&J vaccine, according to The New York Times.

Khadijah Mitchell, assistant professor of biology, explained that any reluctance over the vaccine should be combated with the scientific facts.

“I respect the hesitancy and I understand the reasons behind it. One way to combat it is with accessible educational material,” Mitchell said.

Mitchell gives informational presentations about the vaccines to assure members of the public that rigorous research and development went into making the vaccines. She personally has seen members of the general public get vaccinated after being persuaded by the presentations.

Mitchell explained that there are two types of vaccines: mRNA vaccines, manufactured by Pfizer and Moderna, and viral vector vaccines, manufactured by J&J. The viral vector method is more traditional, while the mRNA method is a more recent innovation in vaccinology. All three of the major vaccines are safe and highly effective, Mitchell said.

Although the vaccines have been approved under emergency use authorization by the Food and Drug Administration, Mitchell urges people to understand that the vaccines have undergone a comprehensive process.

“They weren’t cutting any corners,” Mitchell said.

As of May 12, the CDC reports that 46% of the U.S. population has received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, with 35% being fully vaccinated. Of U.S. adults, 59% have received at least one shot and 45% are fully vaccinated.

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