POV: Schools and Covid-19 Vaccines

Katie Eckert, Copy

Since the public debut of COVID-19 vaccines, over 60 million Americans have received at least one dose. As more people receive the vaccine, the country will theoretically be able to lower or drop all COVID-19 preventative measures. It might even come to pass that certain events or locations are only fully open to people who have received the vaccine, as is already the case for the polio or tetanus vaccines in most schools. In a previous issue of The Chronicle, multiple current and former Seabury students provided ample anecdotal evidence that, across Lawrence, students generally prefer attending in-person school when possible. This begs the question of whether a COVID-19 vaccine should become a requirement for in-person schooling or not, and if schools should be able to make that decision.

“I don’t see necessarily why they shouldn’t,” says freshman Owen Deiderich. Deiderich’s opinion may change, because, as he says, “There could be people who are unable to take it, because some people are allergic.”

Meanwhile, junior Ryan Dekat feels much more strongly about the matter: “I think [allowing schools to require a COVID-19 vaccine] is fine. I’m not sure why it wouldn’t be fine.” Dekat explained his reasoning for his point of view, saying, “[Schools] already require a handful of vaccines to be in school now.”

Like Deiderich, senior Erin Higgins feels there is potential for schools to require the vaccine, although whether they should or not may depend on the circumstances: “I think that if they were to publish all the research and everything behind [the vaccine] and just kind of made the information as to how and why it’s safe more accessible then I think that they could require it. But, I also know that it goes against some religions, so I think there should be exceptions for things like that.”

In addition to schools’ autonomy, whether schools should require the vaccine is a more complicated issue. Dekat says, “I do [think they should require it]. As we continue to see these numbers of deceased people rising, I don’t see a justifiable reason to not get the vaccine.” He also believes that the decision should be in the hands of the school and not the government: “Schools would be able to better make that decision.”

Deiderich agrees, saying, “Definitely in the hands of the schools, because they’ll be able to know their own school better than the government does. Especially private schools.”

Now, one cannot have a conversation with Seabury students about schools requiring the COVID-19 vaccine without talking about what Seabury should do. Answers tended to vary a bit more here.

Higgins was ambivalent about whether Seabury should require the vaccine. “I think Seabury should be allowed to. I don’t really know if they should or shouldn’t,” she says. “I don’t think I would feel not-safe if they didn’t, or feel safer if they did, personally, because I think we’re all pretty safe in masks.”

Deiderich feels like a recommendation would be better than a rule: “They should strongly ask that the students take it if they are able, but not require it; strongly request.”

However, Dekat thought that a requirement should be on the books eventually, saying, “Probably at some point. I don’t necessarily think it should be this year, but maybe by the start of next year.”

Headmaster Dr. Don Schawang also provided his insight into the matter of schools requiring vaccines, saying, “Most of my focus presently has been about whether to require employees to be vaccinated . . . Businesses (schools included) have the right to require employees to be vaccinated with some exceptions.”

As for the greater community, Schawang says, “A school like ours really requires us to ask what our culture dictates.  We will no doubt have to weigh the concerns about potential transmission and the risks . . . with the freedom of individuals not to receive vaccinations if they have health risks or are morally opposed to doing so.”  Schawang also stressed the importance of education around the value of vaccination and herd-immunity, as well as safety steps unvaccinated students may have to take as an alternative to the vaccine. However, there is no need to worry about sudden changes; Schawang disclosed that the school will not be releasing a COVID-19 vaccine policy until more information is available.

Also, for the time being, it is unlikely that any school will be able to require all of its students to be vaccinated, since no COVID-19 vaccine is cleared for anyone under the age of 16. However, that might not always be the case, and so it is important to have this discussion now so that administrators and community members can make future decisions thoughtfully.


By Katie Eckert