Vaccines: The Solution for Students?

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Issue 1, Volume 112


My family was reasonably cautious during the first few months that the COVID-19 vaccines were available, wary of the lightning fast trials and rumors. After months of waiting, however, we finally decided to get vaccinated to stay safe during the school year, when I will be exposed to hundreds of other students daily. While we came to the vaccines by our own choice, those still vaccine hesitant may not get that option. Mayor Bill de Blasio recently announced a vaccine mandate for all teachers in NYC public schools and indoor activities. Now that the vaccine is approved, the city only has one move left: mandate students to take the COVID-19 vaccine. Like state requirements, students should have complete immunization records. A school should have the right to refuse a child until vaccinated.

Safety must be our top priority for school reopening. Stuyvesant has already proposed hand sanitizer dispensers, mask usage, and staff vaccination. However, none of these methods rival the effectiveness of student vaccination. The Delta variant has proven itself to be more contagious and, in some cases, deadlier than the original strain. The variant spreads the fastest in areas with lower vaccination rates. In a school as large as Stuyvesant, many students can potentially be exposed to the Delta variant, endangering family members and continuing the spread. The best way to combat high rates of transmission is to enforce a student vaccine mandate in public schools. While the current vaccines mainly target the original strain, fully vaccinated individuals are proven to have shorter infectious periods, hence making them less likely to spread the variant.

Many are worried that a vaccine mandate will infringe on their right to choose what enters their bodies. However, COVID-19 vaccines have already proven themselves to be effective. Cases dropped from approximately 7,500 new daily cases in March 2021 to around 500 in June 2021 before the Delta variant produced a spike in cases. A common side effect of the vaccines is fever, which only lasts a few days. I would much rather have my classmates experience mild, flu-like symptoms for three days than have their bodies ravaged by the grip of the Delta variant.

Others are concerned that vaccine mandates discriminate between the vaccinated and the unvaccinated. Harmful discrimination is based on intrinsic characteristics of people such as race, age, or sex. However, people control their vaccination status. We’ve always accepted this discrimination since we already require vaccination for schools. The mandate would simply add the COVID-19 vaccine to the list of required MMR, chickenpox, DTaP, and polio vaccines.

Some also believe that a vaccine mandate is unnecessary for students because they are young and will not transmit COVID-19. However, even if students are not the most vulnerable, they can still spread the virus to immunocompromised parents, siblings, and elderly relatives. Classroom vaccine mandates are a measure to close as many doors for the virus to enter as possible. While children are in a special situation in the fight against COVID-19, it is our responsibility to keep them safe, no matter how unlikely it may be for them to get sick.

There are certain situations in which people must choose to uphold their responsibilities over their rights. Public safety is one of those situations. It is ethically wrong for an individual to enter a public school unvaccinated when the Delta variant is spreading in New York City. Now is not the time to let fear destroy two years’ worth of work. Alongside mask mandates, hand sanitizer, and social distancing, requiring students to take COVID-19 vaccines would keep our classmates safe.