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Over 700 University of Michigan instructors are calling on the University to mandate COVID-19 vaccinations for all students attending in-person classes next fall, as well as all employees, according to a petition that began circulating Wednesday. If the University does not institute a mandate, the petition requests that any instructor be able to opt out of in-person teaching and engagement with students. The petition cites the 228 peer institutions that have mandated vaccines for the upcoming school year, 76 of which are public.
“We are concerned that students who refuse to be vaccinated may be overrepresented among our incoming class precisely because we do not mandate vaccination, while students and parents who are concerned about COVID safety would prefer to attend a school with more safety precautions,” the petition reads.
The instructors petition that the hypothetical vaccination requirement go into effect on the first day of Fall 2021 classes if the FDA has given full approval to at least one COVID-19 vaccine by then. Pfizer is expected to file by the end of May for full FDA approval.
The instructors are also petitioning for exemptions to in-person teaching regardless of a vaccine mandate for those with unvaccinated children, citing expectations that the FDA will likely not approve vaccines for young children until the end of 2021 at the earliest. This request also stems from the concern that faculty will still face some pandemic-related issues such as childcare and/or family members with underlying conditions, the petition says.
The instructors suggest only the University only grants vaccine exemptions required by law.
“Any person who is not vaccinated endangers the community, especially those who are prevented from getting vaccinated for medical reasons,” the petition reads. “The approach used by the State of Michigan for K-12 should be used as a guide: The state requires childhood immunization for those who attend public schools, and parents who claim a non-medical exemption are required to meet with a health educator.”
The University announced in March that the vast majority of small and medium-sized classes would be delivered in-person. The petition claims one of the University’s schools had indicated courses would be hybrid or virtual before changing the format to in-person without the consent or knowledge of the instructors. It also states that instructors at another school were given the choice between teaching in-person and taking medical leave.
Lastly, the petition calls for the University to “provide full financial support for each school to test and repair ventilation systems in their respective classrooms to ensure safe/sufficient ventilation for instruction.”
The petition comes just weeks after the University announced a vaccination requirement for students living in on-campus housing for the fall semester. Oakland University is so far the only other college in Michigan to announce any such requirement.
In an email to The Daily, U-M spokesperson Rick Fitzgerald wrote that while the University is continuing to strongly encourage all members of the campus community to receive a COVID-19 vaccination, the University currently has no plans to institute a campus-wide vaccine mandate beyond the requirement for residence halls. Fitzgerald wrote students and employees who do not get a vaccination will be subjected to similar virus mitigation strategies that were implemented in the Winter 2021 semester (such as weekly COVID-19 testing).
“We remain confident that as we progress together toward a residential fall term experience with most classes offered with in-person instruction, we will have a sufficiently high percentage of our community vaccinated.” Fitzgerald wrote. “Encouragement may be more effective than a mandate to achieve the goal of maximizing vaccinations against COVID-19 in the months ahead.”
Fitzgerald further explained the University’s thought process for only requiring vaccinations for students in on-campus housing.
“We do not require students to live in residence halls, so students who object have other options,” Fitzgerald wrote. “Also, the public health benefits of a vaccinated residence hall community are compelling because of the densely populated conditions of residence-hall living.”
Fitzgerald also noted an effort in the Michigan Legislature seeking to prohibit public universities from requiring vaccinations to enroll or attend classes.
“While we oppose such a measure, we must respect the legislative process as it plays out,” Fitzgerald wrote.
After choosing to receive the vaccine, LSA freshman Emma Kortmansky expressed excitement as she prepares to attend in-person classes for the first time this upcoming fall semester.
“In the fall, there are going to be a lot of changes with students attending classes in person for the first time,” Kortmansky said. “I think it is really important that everyone attending classes or in person activities is vaccinated to protect everyone on campus, especially those at high risk.”
In an interview in March with The Daily, U-M President Mark Schlissel displayed optimism about the fall semester and said that much of what the fall semester will look like will depend on how many students are vaccinated.
“I think what’s most likely is that by the time the summer rolls around, all of the faculty and staff that want to be vaccinated will have that access to the vaccine,” Schlissel said. “But, when the new school year rolls around, probably not more than half of students will be vaccinated. So we’ve got to figure out how to have as much in-person education and student life as possible.”
Regent Sarah Hubbard (R) reacted to the petition in a Friday text message to The Daily.
“While it’s not clear to me how a vaccine mandate would work logistically (how would we track it and hold people accountable) I do want to do everything possible to ensure our students have a fully on-campus and in-person educational experience this fall,” Hubbard wrote. “Government requirements, limitations and rates of infection will be significant drivers of decision making.”
Daily Staff Reporter Kaitlyn Luckoff can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.