To Mandate or Not to Mandate—The NAS Weighs In

David Acevedo

CounterCurrent: Week of 12/5


If you’re in academia like me, you’ve probably been shocked anew at how quickly a semester can fly by. The prevailing sentiment on my campus seems to be, “Wait … December already?”—I can imagine that yours feels the same way. But before we head home for holiday festivities, we ought to pause and consider a far less cheerful topic: COVID-19 vaccine mandates.

A few short months ago, I wrote to you on this subject, taking stock of the various strategies American colleges and universities employed with regard to coronavirus vaccination requirements. I identified three main approaches: “Full Speed Ahead,” “Not So Fast,” and “Back to Zoom We Go.”

Full-Speed-Ahead schools announced COVID-19 vaccine mandates before the fall semester even began. The three most notable examples were the University of California, California State University, and State University of New York systems, which together enroll well over a million students. But these schools were far from alone—as of a few days ago, the Chronicle of Higher Education counts more than 1,100 colleges and universities that require coronavirus vaccinations for at least some students or employees. Over 900 of these requirements went into effect before September.

Meanwhile, Not-So-Fast schools have taken a more cautious approach. Some institutions encouraged vaccination but ultimately gave students, faculty, and staff the freedom to decide for themselves. Others were forced into this option by their state governments, such as the University of Texas, which was disallowed from requiring the vaccine due to an Executive Order issued by Governor Greg Abbott. A few schools, including Rice University, chose to start the semester online and delay in-person instruction for several weeks in an attempt to avoid early outbreaks (Rice has since returned to in-person instruction and has issued a vaccine mandate).

As we prepare for the spring semester, it seems that COVID vaccine mandates are here to stay. The potential rise of the Omicron variant only makes this more likely. That’s why the National Association of Scholars felt compelled to issue an official statement on the matter, which we hope clarifies our position and points a way forward for institutions willing to listen. We are, of course, not a medical authority. But we are able to read and understand published studies, as well as consider how they ought to inform higher ed policy.

The core of our statement is quite simple:

The National Association of Scholars (NAS) does not oppose voluntary vaccination. We strongly encourage individuals in high-risk categories to get vaccinated. Yet we draw a sharp distinction between voluntary vaccination and mandated vaccination. NAS opposes both institutional and governmental COVID-19 vaccine mandates. They are a disproportionate response to the COVID-19 pandemic and they abrogate Americans’ liberties.

Now before you reach for the pitchfork, let’s focus on a keyword here: disproportionate. The NAS fully recognizes that the pandemic has led to a tragic loss of life both domestically and abroad, particularly among the elderly. But we also believe that COVID-19 vaccine mandates are both excessive and unwarranted within higher education specifically.

It is an excessive step because college and university student populations contain very few people who are at high risk of mortality or other extreme consequences of COVID-19 infection. It is an unwarranted step because those who are at risk can be and in most cases already have been vaccinated or have developed natural immunity.

We encourage American colleges and universities that have voluntarily mandated the coronavirus vaccine to reconsider their decision. We also call for a rescission of such requirements at every level of government. As the statement reads,

Public health officials and the medical community should adopt a full-spectrum approach to fighting COVID-19. They should encourage Americans to use a combination of preventive care, drugs, and vaccines, by means of rational and respective persuasion which respects Americans’ freedom to choose their own medical treatments and assess their own risks. They should not call for vaccine mandates—and neither should any component of the American government, or any institution of higher education.

The current mandates are concerning enough, but we are also wary of what academic leaders will do with their newfound powers. Some schools, for instance, are already mandating the flu shot. It is high time for government and higher education to return this important medical decision to its rightful place: into the hands of each and every American citizen, not into their arms by force.

To read and share our full statement, click here.


CounterCurrent is the National Association of Scholars’ weekly newsletter, written by Communications & Research Associate David Acevedo. To subscribe, update your email preferences here.

Image: Diana Polekhina, Public Domain

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