The Independent Student Newspaper of Northern Kentucky University.

Faculty senate passes resolution while petition calls for vaccine mandate

The university is aware of the resolution, but no policy regarding a vaccine mandate has been implemented at this time

September 24, 2021

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Cameron Nielsen

Vaccines being distributed at the HCSW in UC 440.

The faculty senate recently passed a resolution in favor of a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for all students, faculty and staff at Northern Kentucky University. Meanwhile, an unrelated petition by a faculty member is calling for the university to require vaccination for students and employees.

According to John Farrar, Associate Professor in Chemistry and Biochemistry and Faculty Senate President, the issue was discussed by the senate in light of the Food and Drug Administration’s official approval of the Pfizer vaccine.

“The executive committee felt that we ought to at least bring to the faculty senate a resolution that we could vote on to support the vaccine requirement, and also would make sure our voices are heard to the administration and to the broader region,” Farrar said.

The faculty senate is a collegiate government organization. Composed of faculty members that represent various NKU academic departments, it serves an advisory role to university administration, particularly on academic affairs.

The resolution supports full vaccination of all students, faculty and staff on campus. It exempts individuals who are not actively on campus and those with medical conditions that make vaccination difficult.

The university administration has been made aware of the resolution, but what comes next is unknown. The resolution is not a policy nor is it designed to be one, Farrar said.

“Having any policy that mandates vaccines is challenging and complicated. The likelihood of us actually having a vaccine requirement on campus, I think, is pretty small, just because of the political situation in Kentucky,” Farrar said.

Farrar added that a vaccine mandate is more likely to happen if universities in the state could work together on attaining one.

Separately, a petition calling for mandatory vaccination of students and employees was started by Axel Brandt, an assistant professor in the Department of Mathematics and Statistics. Since its starting point at the beginning of the fall semester, the petition has gathered 685 signatures toward a goal of 1,000.

“Firstly, we as an institution have a responsibility to provide for the safety of everyone on campus, and vaccination is the most effective way to do that,” Brandt said of his reasons for creating the petition. “Secondly, I would hate to catch COVID on campus and transmit it to my one-year-old at home.”

According to Brandt, his wife works at a hospital ICU and is seeing younger patients die of COVID. He would hate for NKU to have a death that could have been avoided with the implementation of a vaccine mandate.

Brandt believes that a petition could serve as evidence of local support for a mandate. A requirement alone might not be enough to stop the Delta variant, but it could provide immunity to the community.

“Fewer breakthrough cases will happen if we curb the overall number of cases,” Brandt said, adding that a layered approach that includes exact policy decisions, caseload tracking and social distancing is needed to keep everyone safe and healthy.

Rose Tempel, Nurse Practitioner and Director of Health Services at NKU, estimated that 50 to 60 percent of the campus population is unvaccinated. Students who are in the health profession or work at hospital and clinical sites are required to be vaccinated.

According to Tempel, NKU has not required vaccines in its policy partly because previous presidents did not want to create barriers to students coming to campus.

“I would personally love to see everyone vaccinated, but we do not have the resources, time and energy to spend on tracking,” Tempel said, adding that other universities may use private companies to help with tracking cases.

Health, Counseling, and Student Wellness has given out 500 to 600 doses since vaccines were made available at NKU, Tempel said. The ongoing effort has been keeping staff preoccupied.

The Pfizer vaccines arrive at NKU in vials, each containing six diluted doses that are to be used within six hours. According to Tempel, this is why vaccinations on campus are scheduled and given in groups.

“I don’t want to waste five doses [for a single person]. We want to limit our wastage of doses. That’s what we do to be judicial about using resources,” Tempel said.

According to the latest university update, transmission rates in the region are currently staying constant and case numbers are declining daily. A previous update states that regional case levels were below the Kentucky average. COVID-19 status at NKU remains in the red zone at the moment. No restrictions other than masking would be enforced.

These developments make a vaccine mandate even more unlikely. However, in the event that a mandate is realized, the COVID-19 Preparedness Team would advise university administration on how to best implement it. It would ultimately be a human resources issue, Farrar said.

“Everybody’s allowed to believe what they want to believe,” Brandt said when asked about the potential backlash to a vaccine requirement. “But we have to balance between the interests of public health and individual rights and liberties.”

A similar viewpoint is held by Farrar, who hoped to get vaccination rates at NKU up to the 80-90 percent range.

“The risk to you of getting a vaccine and the risk to you of wearing a mask is very, very small. But the benefit to you, to your family, to this community and the community at large is very great,” Farrar said. “The benefits outweigh the personal risks, and so use your freedom to choose to do the right thing, which is to get the vaccine.”

Tempel believed that NKU has done a good job of handling the pandemic. Aside from an indoor masking requirement, the university continues to encourage self-reporting and vaccination.

According to the latest update, the vaccine incentive contest designed to motivate students to report their vaccination status has been suspended until the reporting rates reach 50 percent.

Beginning Sept. 20, COVID-19 testing moved from the Health Services office to room 204 in the University Center, open 10:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. Monday through Friday. A walk-in vaccination clinic is held in Student Union room 324 with the same hours on Thursday.

For more COVID-19 information, click here.

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