Reinstate COVID-19 vaccine mandate to keep on-campus learning afloat

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Many of us remember the fateful moment in March of 2020 when government agencies made the call. All non-essential activities were put on hold indefinitely, and everything that could be done remotely, had to be done remotely. 

Since the initial lockdowns early in the pandemic, attempts to return to normal have been a tense and problematic battle, especially for school systems. 

The most recent uptick of COVID-19 cases, caused by the omicron variant and low rates of youth vaccinations, prompted schools in both Atlanta and Cleveland to halt in-person learning in favor of remote schooling again. More locally, the Clark County School District (CCSD) instituted a five-day “pause” on returning to in-person learning in response to the growing cases. 

Public health and medical experts have repeatedly communicated that the best and most effective strategy for ending the pandemic involves a layered approach, including vaccinations, masking, ventilation, testing and social distancing. 

Despite this, the vaccine requirement for Nevada System of Higher Education (NSHE) students has expired before even going into effect this semester, leaving students and staff scrambling to adjust once again. 

On Dec. 21, the 12-person Nevada Interim Legislative Commission voted along political party lines on the vaccine requirement for college students, resulting in a tie. Without the majority support of the members, the mandate failed to pass. 

Without utilizing the full spectrum of the “layering” approach recommended by health officials and experts, UNLV is vulnerable to the possibility of another shift back to full online learning.

According to the 2021 report “How America Pays for College,” only 17% of students said they would prefer to study online only, and 75% of respondents said they were “eager to return to campus in the fall.” 

Coupled with the research showing that remote learning resulted in decreased learning and performance outcomes, we can conclude that the availability to conduct in-person learning is paramount for facilitating education to most students. 

For UNLV specifically, the optics of being a research institution that essentially does not follow what the research indicates is far from ideal. How can we, as an institution, say that we value education and research, science and progress, but not vaccination when these concepts are inextricably linked? 

Most members of the NSHE Board of Regents seem to agree. Last week, the regents voted 9-4 in favor of sending a letter to the Nevada State Board of Health, Gov. Sisolak’s office, and the Nevada Legislative Commission in support of reinstating the vaccine mandate for students. 

Presidents of both UNLV and UNR attended the session and voiced their support of the vaccine mandate. 

“I think I do speak for our students, faculty and staff when I say that we fully support the letter,” Brian Sandoval, president of UNR and former governor of Nevada said, at the meeting on Jan. 14. 

According to chief counsel for NSHE, Joseph Reynolds, the Nevada Board of Health has the authority to enact a vaccine mandate for all college students.  

Our educational institutions have a responsibility to the public to take a stand on important matters that impact the lives of not only students, faculty and employees, but the Las Vegas community at large. 

The vaccine mandate will allow our university to continue reopening and recovery efforts by providing students with the protection only vaccines can provide. Moreover, supporting research-backed scientific development is inherently part of UNLV’s values, and we need to act in accordance with those values.

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