Photography by Montgomery College
Montgomery College will require verification of COVID-19 vaccination by January 7, 2022, for all students taking classes in the spring 2022 semester. The college announced its plans to mandate the vaccine at the Town Hall on Tuesday, Sept. 21st after introducing the plan in an email sent the Thursday prior. The meeting included about dozen individuals none of whom identified themselves as a student. Students have been encouraged to get either the Pfizer, Moderna, or Johnson and Johnson (Janssen) vaccine as the country becomes divided on the credibility of the vaccines.
In her weekly email to the MC community, “Interim President’s Corner”, Dr. Charlene Dukes, interim president of Montgomery College, warns of a possible future reality of the vaccine as a part of the education system and workforce, saying, “…whether on campus or online, you need to be prepared for the future. Whether you plan to transfer or go directly into the workforce, you will very likely be required to be vaccinated.” In fact, the deadline for staff to provide proof of vaccination is November 8th while students have until the start of the Spring semester to get vaccinated.
Several institutions have already made the vaccine mandatory and have taken actions to enforce the change despite many who don’t agree. Indiana University (IU) Health had its vaccine deadline set for September 1st for its employees in spite of a petition signed with more than 11,000 signatures. After providing a two-week suspension without pay, 125 employees chose not to comply with the mandate and left IU Health. In 2013 IU Health, the largest hospital in Indiana, fired 8 employees for non-compliance of the flu vaccine.
Across its 12 schools, the University System of Mayland also instituted a vaccine mandate before students returned for the fall semester. The Baltimore Sun reports Chancellor Jay A. Perman, a pediatric gastroenterologist, as having a ‘better safe than sorry’ philosophy on the matter, noting, “I’m convinced that the risk of doing too little to contain COVID on campus this fall is greater than the risk of doing too much.” Containing COVID means preventing transmission of the virus. In the case of universities such as the University Systems of Maryland, this includes requiring proof of vaccination before being able to come on campus.
Many believe mandating the vaccine to be an act outside of the authority of the government and have opted not to get the one or two shots while others are calling for the third “booster” shot. To date, 56% of Americans have been fully vaccinated, 64% in Montgomery County according to usafacts.org while others are hesitant and are expressing their concerns through various ways.
Some people within the MC community are concerned that the vaccine is being mandated while people are experiencing adverse reactions to the administration of the vaccine. One individual commented in the live chat running during Dr. Dukes’ Town Hall and shared experiencing the death of his brother after receiving the vaccine. Reactions such as this have been reported as rare according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and are recorded in the Vaccine Adverse Effect Reporting System (VAERS) within the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
Several questions were raised regarding staff potentially needing time off to deal with a COVID infection, to quarantine from an exposure, or to receive COVID testing. Katharine Blankman, a MC Safety and Security officer, asked if the 80 hours of leave time which the college had provided before and cut off after a while would be available in the future. Krista Leitch Walker, Vice President of Human Resources and Strategic Talent Management, revealed the college’s intent to revisit the provision, saying, “We are mindful that we have some employees who may be forced because of the situation to quarantine, and that may not be able to work remotely. So, we are considering that, and that is something we are looking at.”
Several countries, including the United States and United Kingdom continue to track infection rates leading to Intensive Care Unit (ICU) admission which decreased in vaccinated populations. This decrease in admissions does not mean the risk of infection is eliminated. However, widespread vaccination does help hospitals experience less surges in ICU admissions and deaths due to the COVID-19 disease. In August, the CDC reported the “effectiveness of vaccination for preventing hospitalization” with the Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, and Janssen vaccines at 96%, 96%, and 84% respectively for adults within the 65–74-year-old age range.
Montgomery College has not described what enforcement will look like, but Dr. Dukes has ensured that no teacher will be asked to check students’ vaccination status, saying, “We’re not asking faculty to police anything. Nothing. Nada.” The plan announced does involve updating teachers when necessary. Dr. Dukes further explains how students’ records will be kept private. She goes on to say, “We’re setting up systems for testing, and faculty may be a part of the chain of communication, but they will not have access to students’ records, nor will they ask students about testing or to leave a class. Other systems are being established to notify students who should not be present in face-to-face classes.”
The college continues to develop processes for students, faculty, and staff to submit proof of vaccination, a request for exemption, or weekly testing. Meanwhile, variants of the virus continue to emerge.
-Jonathan Spires is Editor-in-chief of The Excalibur Newspaper at Montgomery College and works as a clinical technician at Suburban Hospital in Bethesda, Maryland.