Students and staff following COVID-19 precautions in Bursley Hall. Tess Crowley/Daily.  Buy this photo.

The University Insider is The Daily’s first faculty and staff-oriented newsletter. This weekly newsletter will give U-M faculty and staff the ability to see the most important issues on campus and in Ann Arbor — particularly those related to administrative decisions — from the perspective of an independent news organization. It will also provide a better understanding of student perspectives.

University of Michigan President Mark Schlissel announced on Apr. 23 that any students who decide to live in on-campus housing for the 2021-2022 school year must be fully vaccinated to be eligible for housing. Students planning to live in the residence halls must provide proof of vaccination by July 15, barring limited exemptions that have not yet been laid out.

A large contingent of higher education institutions have set forth vaccination requirements for their students, while other universities and colleges are reluctant to mandate vaccines due to legal and ethical reasons. 

In an email to The Michigan Daily, Dr. Robert Ernst, Associate Vice President for Student Life and Executive Director of the University Health Service, wrote that the University will accept COVID-19 vaccinations that are approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration or the World Health Organization. The accepted vaccines currently include the Pfizer BioNTech, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson/Janssen, and AstraZeneca (Covishield) vaccines.

The University recommends that all students, regardless of living location, upload proof of their COVID-19 vaccination to Wolverine Access before the beginning of the fall semester. Ernst said this information will be used to inform plans for the fall. 

Ernst said that Michigan Housing is working on a specific plan for how exemptions will be managed and will share this information soon. Students who are vaccinated will not be required to adhere to on-campus testing requirements in the fall semester.

“This (vaccine) information will be used to protect our community in many ways, including waived testing and quarantine requirements, social distancing needs, public health-informed housing decisions and administrative planning,” Ernst said.

Professor Emeritus Peter Jacobson, professor of health law and policy, said that although the vaccines did not go through the normal three-phase process of approval, they are still safe and effective. 

“Nothing is perfect, but just think of it this way: a little over a year ago, the hope was that in two years, we would have a vaccine that might be effective at the 50% level,” Jacobson said. “We now have, in one year, a vaccine that’s effective in the 95% level.” 

Regardless of the public concern, Jacobson said the vaccine mandate at the University will protect the overall community as long as the University gives students and staff of different socioeconomic backgrounds equal access to the vaccine. Jacobson said he is a firm believer in vaccinating everyone, with the exception of certain students and staff due to medical reasons. 

“You’re in a small community,” Jacobson said. “You’re in dorms, you’re in classes, you’re exposing professors. You’re exposing U-M staff. It seems to me that the University has every right to protect itself.”. 

Some critics argue that vaccine mandates are a violation of the Nuremberg code, which was created after World War II to protect people from non-consensual experimentation. Jacobson said the vaccines are not experimental because there is concrete evidence the vaccines are not harmful to human beings. 

“How do you then have so few side effects after millions of doses — after a hundred million doses — in the U.S., two hundred million shots in the U.S.?” Jacobson said.

J. Scott Roberts, professor of health behavior and health education, said each university should set policies according to the needs of their specific community. One example of this, according to Roberts, is the execution of soft mandates, where colleges set consequences for students and staff who do not get vaccinated, such as increased testing and mask wearing. 

“Given the politicized environment we’re in, there is this threat of backlash and I think before we go there, we should consider there’s a lot of options on a continuum here,” Roberts said. 

Additionally, Roberts said, clear and early communication to all campus community members is vital to the peaceful enforcement of vaccine requirements on the U-M campus.

“Historically, there was great trust in government public health, and even reasonable trust in the pharmaceutical industry not so long ago, but you think both of those actors have suffered from a loss of public trust,” Roberts said. 

International Students

Even if international students arriving on campus in the fall are unable to get vaccinated in their home country, Ernst said the University will provide easy access to vaccination. The University has partnered with Michigan Medicine, the Washtenaw County Health Department and several local pharmacies to help the campus community get vaccinated. Ernst said students who arrive on campus unvaccinated, including international students who were not able to get vaccinated before the fall, will be expected to undergo surveillance testing until they are fully vaccinated.

At the time of publication, 12.2% of people living in China have been vaccinated against COVID-19. China is using the Sinopharm vaccine, which has a lower efficacy rate than the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines. In 2020, there were 3,493 Chinese-born students enrolled at U-M.

LSA sophomore Linda Cai lives in Qingdao, China, and has already received the Sinopharm vaccine. In an interview with The Michigan Daily, she said she is concerned about potentially needing to get a second COVID-19 vaccine, since there is limited research relating to the effects of receiving two different COVID-19 vaccines.

“I hope that I don’t have to get another vaccine … because the University only approved those (Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca vaccines) and not the Sinopharm one,” Cai said. “There hasn’t been a lot of research on how that would go and what kind of reactions there are and what side effects (there would be).”

Many health and immunology experts expect that it is safe to receive two different COVID-19 vaccines, but clinical trials are still ongoing and data has not yet been released. France’s top health advisory body, the High Authority of Health, recommended in April that patients who received one shot of the AstraZeneca vaccine should get a different vaccine for their second shot following reports of a possible link between the AstraZeneca vaccine and blood clots.

School of Information and LSA junior Tiara Amadia is from the city of Jakarta in Indonesia, a country where only 4.2% of the population is vaccinated as of publication. Amadia said she was able to get vaccinated in Ann Arbor during the winter semester, but is concerned about the slow vaccination effort in Indonesia and how it could affect her fall semester.

“I’m kind of scared about (a potential travel ban) because that will create trouble for international students,” Amadia said. “The freshmen stayed home because they couldn’t get their visas. And now, because of the whole vaccine situation and the differences (between the U.S. and Indonesia), they might not be able to get their second college year … and they are paying out of state tuition for essentially at-home learning.”

Similar to Indonesia, India is also experiencing a slow vaccine rollout due to limited supply, with only 6.5% of its population vaccinated as of publication. India is currently experiencing one of the worst COVID-19 outbreaks since the pandemic began, reporting more than 400,000 COVID-19 cases daily. 

Despite having one of the largest vaccine manufacturing plants in the world, India has not been able to vaccinate its population against COVID-19 because many U.S. pharmaceutical companies are not sharing or selling the vaccine recipe with other manufacturers. U.S. President Joe Biden recently agreed to waive intellectual property rights on COVID-19 vaccines, which would allow other countries, such as India, to produce COVID-19 vaccines without paying pharmaceutical companies for the recipe, and would help increase global vaccine supply.

Incoming LSA freshman Adviti Mishra, lives in Mumbai, India, and said she doesn’t think she will be fully vaccinated by the July 15 deadline the University has set, but expects to be vaccinated before starting school in the fall. 

“According to Michigan Housing, the deadline is around July 15. I’m not sure if most of us will get fully vaccinated by then,” Mishra said. “But I’m absolutely certain we’ll get vaccinated before fall.”

As of publication, Canada has vaccinated 22.4% of its population. Music, Theatre & Dance sophomore Victoria Vourkoutiotis is from Toronto, Canada, and told The Daily she supports mandating COVID-19 vaccines for students living in the dorms.

“I think it’s fair because international students can get vaccinated in the (United) States … (it’s) for the safety of everyone on campus,” Vourkoutiotis said. “(The University) has been doing a really good job showing people where to get vaccinated and reaching out to students.”

Campus Reactions

Though having a COVID-19 vaccine mandate at the University has raised legal and ethical concerns for some, the reactions from students, parents and the Ann Arbor community are largely positive and in support of the University’s decision. 

Incoming LSA freshman Marlee Sacksner said she is “very pleased” with the University’s decision to mandate the COVID-19 vaccine, because it makes her feel “more ready” to start college in a time of uncertainty.

“I think (the vaccine) is going to put in an added layer of comfort that will make living in the dorms feel more safe and provide some relief and comfort,” Sacksner said. “I know as an incoming freshman I was so nervous about meeting new people, and just knowing that most people are going to be vaccinated, it’s just such a comfort and I feel like I’m ready to take on that next step and feel ready to meet new people and get to know people in a safe way.”

Sacksner also said she thinks it is important to loosen restrictions in order to have a more “normal” year. 

“I think it’s important for the University to think about the students’ perspective and consider what they want,” Sacksner said. “I know a lot of my friends and I want the college experience, and … I think just being more lenient than this year with more in-person classes and just knowing that the vaccination is a big safety measure.” 

Rachel Klayman, Ann Arbor resident and parent of an incoming freshman, echoed Sacksner’s hopes. Klayman said she supports the vaccine mandate, but urges the University to change restrictive guidelines in hopes of giving students more “freedom” once fully vaccinated.

“I really feel that students should be able to visit each other’s dorm rooms,” Klayman said. “They should be able to go to different dorms if all of the residents of that dorm are vaccinated. So I’m really hoping that come fall, we’ll see some change there.”

Klayman also said she hopes to get involved at Regents’ meetings to express her views as a parent to the University.  She believes the University should “pay attention to the CDC guidelines” to inform a safe but enjoyable year.

According to the CDC as of Thursday afternoon, fully vaccinated people can safely go about day-to-day life indoors and outdoors without masks. The state of Michigan still has indoor mask mandates in place.  

“We don’t have to be the most restrictive environment — we can follow the science and follow the guidelines,” Klayman said.

For incoming freshmen who will not be 18 years of age by the start of the fall semester, meeting the vaccine requirement is a larger challenge. Currently in the U.S., only the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is approved for those 12 years old and older, while the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines are approved for 18 years and older. Students under the age of 18 not only have to find a vaccine they are eligible for, but also require parental consent in order to receive any COVID-19 vaccination. 

Incoming LSA freshman Riley Hodder turns 18 in September, a couple weeks after the start of the school year, and is supportive of the vaccine mandate for next semester. Hodder said it makes sense in order to have students move back into dorms and recreate a sense of normalcy.

“I think it’s a great first step to let us move in (to the dorms) in the first place,” Hodder said. “I really like the pace (the University) is going at. I don’t think it’s too slow. I think they’re being cautious and trying to take it one step at a time, so I really like their program so far to try and transition.” 

Hodder said scheduling her vaccine will be more challenging because a guardian is required to be present; however, she recognizes that other minors whose parents who don’t support the vaccine will have a harder time getting vaccinated. 

“It hasn’t caused much of a barrier for me because my parents are very supportive of me getting the vaccine so I can move into the dorms,” Hodder said. “But … some people, whose parents are less supportive of the vaccine and need to be 18 to make that autonomous decision, I could see how that would be harder.”

Students at the University have also struggled with mental health, as many University buildings offering recreational activities were closed due to the pandemic, and have had to adjust to taking classes online, living alone, having limited spaces to safely socialize and not being able to eat in dining halls with other students. Some students are cautiously optimistic that the vaccine will help make campus life more normal in the fall.

“The University also needs to prioritize student mental health — I feel like that’s a big thing that was missing this year,” Klayman said. “I feel like students living in residence halls, and all students, really paid the price (of University facility closures). “(President Schlissel) admitted that one thing missing in this current year was joy, and that he planned to bring that back, so I hope they take that to heart and make it happen.”

Daily Staff Reporters Justin O’Beirne, Liz Hwang and Isabelle Regent can be found at justinob@umich.edu, ejwh@umich.edu and iregent@umich.edu.