Expired vaccine mandate leaves students concerned

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A dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine. Image taken from UNLV website article about vaccine objections. https://www.unlv.edu/news/article/3-common-covid-vaccination-objections

Students have been able to enroll into classes, regardless of their COVID-19 vaccination status, due to the spring vaccine mandate expiring and the campus population is split in their reaction.

UNLV students received an email on Dec. 22, informing them that the spring semester’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate for students had officially expired. On Aug. 20, the Nevada State Board of Health voted unanimously to require students to receive the COVID-19 vaccination to enroll for the following spring semester in an emergency meeting. UNLV required that students be fully vaccinated by Nov. 1 in order to enroll into classes. Nov. 1 was also the first day of open enrollment for the upcoming spring semester. 

The COVID-19 vaccine mandate expired due when a state legislative commission that voted to extend the mandate ended in a 6-6 tie. As a result, the mandate’s expiration allowed unvaccinated students to enroll into in-person courses. 

“I think there’s obviously a lot of things that the leadership and politicians are weighing when they’re making these decisions,” said an assistant professor at UNLV, Emma Frances Bloomfield. “But I largely come down on the side of science that any exceptions to vaccine mandates are getting rid of vaccine mandates in dangerous public health.”

Bloomfield teaches a class that is accessible both in-person and virtually at UNLV. She initially made her plans for teaching in the spring semester when the vaccine mandate was still in place, and was frustrated with the decision by the legislatures, particularly with how the mandate ended. 

“It was that the mandate failed to be extended,” Bloomfield said. “Right, so it just expired. Because of a lack of action. So it told me that people weren’t willing to vote to protect the community.”

According to the Southern Nevada Health District, as of Jan. 27, there are currently 59,670 breakthrough cases (cases recorded in fully vaccinated individuals) have been recorded, and 307 of those have resulted in death. However, among the unvaccinated there have been 1,081,509 recorded cases and 6,526 deaths. 

“I was directly affected by COVID,” said a UNLV student majoring in electrical engineering, Jorge Ortiz. “When it hit, my whole family got hit with it. My uncle sadly passed away.”

When Ortiz and his family caught COVID-19, his father needed to be hospitalized, then put on oxygen for weeks. Ortiz dealt with severe anxiety and panic attacks for months after recovering, and he used UNLV’s Student Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) to help him recover mentally. 

Ortiz felt safe enough to be on campus for the spring semester, with the vaccine mandate and signed up for in-person classes. However, when he heard about the expiration, Ortiz dropped his in-person classes and switched what he could back to virtual instruction.

When asked what he would say to the legislators who voted against renewing the vaccine mandate, Ortiz said that he would ask them to reconsider. 

“I would just say to reconsider it heavily,” Ortiz said. “Look at the statistics, don’t look at it politically, it’s not a political thing. We just need to protect ourselves, the human population and our loved ones.”

However, not everyone on campus feels the same as Ortiz and Bloomfield. 

Some students and their parents took to social media to express their doubts about the vaccine’s effectiveness, some even citing conspiracy theories. Other students won’t vaccinate because they consider themselves safe from COVID-19 without the vaccine. Some believe the vaccine mandate to be a regulatory overreach by the government.

While the vaccine mandate for students expired, the mandate for all Nevada System of Higher Education (NSHE) staff to be vaccinated for COVID-19 was renewed in an unanimous vote by the Board of Regents on Dec. 30. The Board of Regents also directed their chancellor to send a letter in support of renewing the student vaccine mandate to Nevada’s governor, state board of health and state legislature.

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