The spring semester at UVA has officially begun, and, as promised, all classes are currently being held in person. However, the University, along with many other higher learning institutions, no longer considers double-jabbed students fully vaccinated. Before the semester started, UVA instituted yet another mandate: the COVID-19 booster shot. What was so interesting about the new requirement was its timing in relation to other events on Grounds, in the rest of Virginia, across the United States, and around the world.
Students were made aware of the booster requirement in an email sent on December 21, 2021.The announcement, sent by President Ryan, clearly stated the change of policy as a requirement for all who “study, live, or work on Grounds in the spring semester,” and added “all UVA students attending in the spring 2022 semester must upload proof of an approved booster… no later than February 1, 2022.”
To put this in perspective, the original vaccine requirement for the primary dose was given to students on May 20th, 2021, with July 1st as the deadline for receiving a vaccination. Both of these periods were forty-two days in length. On January 7th however, President Ryan sent a new email to students informing them that the booster shot deadline would be moved up to January 14th, cutting the timeline nearly in half, and giving students only a week to get their booster shot from the email’s release.
The email cited a “significant global spike in COVID-19 cases as a result of the omicron variant, and based on the advice of our public health experts” for the shortened deadline. But was this the actual reason? When one considers why such additional action was taken, it is difficult to find data to suggest boosters for students was necessary. Albemarle County’s adult population, according to the Virginia Department of Health, is 91% vaccinated with at least one dose and 82.5% fully vaccinated without the booster. The population aged 12-17 is 87.4% fully vaccinated, with 94% having at least one dose. Approximately 41% of Albermarle is boosted at the moment. The World Health Organization has stated that countries should only boost 40% of their populations, so again it must be asked, why require a booster? And why shift the timeline so dramatically?
Perhaps it is because Governor Youngkin, our pro-vaccine yet anti-mandate governor, was sworn into office on January 15th— that is, the day after the newly set student booster deadline. Why was the deadline not made the day after the inauguration, to allow students more time to receive their boosters? Or the day before students were to return to Grounds? The shift in the booster deadline was arbitrary in terms of the science, but politically right on target.
Mandating the booster also came after the Supreme Court ruled that the COVID-19 vaccinations cannot be required under OSHA regulations for entities employing more than 100 persons. Under these standards, why would UVA require their students to receive an untested booster shot when they are constitutionally no longer obligated to vaccinate their employees? I will remind you of UVA requiring their employees to be vaccinated earlier this school year, without listening to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, nor waiting for the constitutional guidance of the Supreme Court to back their requirement.
Even more curious is the effectiveness of said booster shot. The WHO has explicitly said that the third booster shot could lead to a “dangerous trend.” Israel has already placed a second booster (and fourth overall dose) mandate on their citizens to be considered fully vaccinated, and yet have concluded that the boosters do not protect against infection of Omicron. This begs the question, why receive the booster at all? The efficacy rate in recent headlines has continued to shrink, with early estimations around 98%, and recent estimations around 90%.
The UK has recently lifted all of its vaccine, mask, and COVID-19 passport mandates amid Prime Minister Boris Johnson being caught in a scandal not following his own COVID-19 protocols. Lifting “life saving” mandates as a result of being caught in a scandal makes it seem as though these approaches are not as life saving as they were marketed to be, and rather are a tool of political popularity derived from the fear of a disease with above a 99.5% survivability rate.
These global events give a clearer picture. Boosters have been proven to have limited efficacy, COVID-19 is still spreading in largely vaccinated areas, and politics is seemingly the driving force behind every mandate. Now that Governor Youngkin is in office, mandates across the state are being struck down. Yet UVA, caving to the political pressures of today, mandated an understudied, unperforming, and unprecedented medicinal treatment the day before Youngkin had the opportunity to prevent them, without listening to the guidance of legal courts or opposing health care professionals. The deadline shift from February 1st to January 14th was motivated primarily by politics, and not by health.
In conclusion, I urge you to think critically for yourself and decide whether such an action is not only necessary, but if it is also proven beneficial by any metric across the globe. Question the ulterior motives, and examine the independent data for yourself. Perhaps we will see a shift in our own policies here soon.
- G. Bailey