Opinion editorial

MIT should require all students to be vaccinated against COVID-19 this fall

Requiring students to receive vaccines will protect our campus

Hoping to resume full academic and research activities and invite all students to campus for Fall 2021, MIT has a significant amount of planning in store for the coming months, and in the backdrop of the ongoing pandemic, it’s clear that this planning will largely depend on the efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines and the large-scale vaccination of the MIT community. With a safe return to campus and the health of community members at stake, MIT should make a commitment to our wellbeing by requiring all students to be vaccinated in the fall.

Over 30 colleges in the U.S. have already announced that they will be requiring students to receive COVID-19 vaccines — including public universities in Massachusetts and peer private institutions like Brown, Stanford, and Yale — with more expected to follow. MIT has both the means and sufficient reason to require student vaccinations as well.

All undergraduate and graduate students registered full-time for school in Massachusetts are currently required to receive TDAP (tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis), hepatitis B, MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella), varicella, and meningococcal vaccines, with medical and religious exceptions permitted. While these vaccines are state-mandated and the COVID-19 vaccine is not, in Fall 2020, the state also required all students attending school in Massachusetts to receive a flu vaccine. Although Massachusetts exempted students who were off campus and engaged in fully remote learning from this requirement, MIT Medical Director Cecilia Stuopis announced that all MIT students, whether on or off campus, were required to be vaccinated against the flu in order to register for a second semester of classes. From this precedent, it is evident that MIT can and is willing to go beyond the vaccination requirements of the state in order to ensure the safety of its community members.

MIT should also plan to help vaccinate students who are unable to receive COVID-19 vaccines in the countries or communities where they currently reside. Whether this requires MIT to receive doses from the state of Massachusetts to administer to these students once the state population is more widely vaccinated or to set up appointments for students at other vaccination sites once they arrive on campus, by ensuring that these students can be vaccinated, MIT will strengthen the level of protection in our community and promise greater safety to students who are placing their trust in MIT’s planning by returning to college amidst a pandemic. In addition, MIT should continue to provide exemptions to students who cannot receive a vaccine for medical or religious reasons as well as to younger students for whom a vaccine may have yet to be approved.

The COVID-19 vaccines also differ from the already required vaccines in that they have been approved for distribution through Emergency Use Authorization (EUA), rather than the full Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval process. Even so, the FDA has stated that the COVID-19 vaccines have been developed and rigorously tested using non-clinical, clinical, and manufacturing data. Multiple organizations  considered to be public health authorities or respected scientific institutions have also attested to the benefit of these vaccines during the ongoing pandemic, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the World Health Organization, and MIT itself.

MIT’s position among these scientific institutions further emphasizes the importance of requiring MIT students to be vaccinated. Given its mission of advancing knowledge and educating students in science and technology, the Institute cannot deny the legitimate scientific research behind the development and efficacy of the vaccines, some of which was done in labs on MIT’s own campus. Requiring students to receive the vaccine would demonstrate that MIT has faith in this science. It would also address concerns of students and other community members hesitant to receive the vaccine, who would see that a credible institution like MIT has emphasized the importance of vaccinations and acknowledged the safety they provide.

Additionally, knowing that a significant fraction of the community will be vaccinated will allow MIT to more effectively plan for the fall. Rather than wait for more than 10,000 students to attest that they have been vaccinated and make alternate plans in the case that many aren’t, MIT should aim to operate under the assumption that all undergraduate and graduate students will be vaccinated. Planning with this knowledge will make a safe return to dorms, labs, and classrooms far more feasible and reduce the number of variables involved in decision-making. For staff and faculty members who frequently engage with students, while vaccinations do not guarantee complete immunity, they will provide greater peace of mind during interactions necessary for classes and residential life, especially for staff and faculty who have vulnerable family members or children who cannot receive a vaccine. As students ourselves, we will also feel much safer returning to a campus where our classmates are vaccinated against COVID-19.

We appreciate the Institute’s efforts to invite thousands of students back to campus in the fall and understand the breadth of considerations that need to be made for this plan. Thus, to facilitate planning and to better ensure a safe and successful fall semester, MIT should require all undergraduate and graduate students to receive a COVID-19 vaccine. We are all excited to be back under the dome, and we hope that MIT can fulfill this promise while also keeping our community safe and healthy.

Editorials are the official opinion of The Tech. They are written by the Editorial Board, which consists of Publisher Joanna Lin, Editor in Chief Kristina Chen, Managing Editor Chloe McCreery, Executive Editor Wenbo Wu, and the opinion editor, a position that is currently vacant.