Introduction to the Issue
The worldwide COVID-19 pandemic has affected the lives of millions of people, hitting minorities and those with a low socio-economic background especially hard. For example, according to Murty and Payne, the rate of COVID-related deaths among African-Americans is 2.5 times higher than among White Americans (2021). Furthermore, in light of the ongoing systematic racism and the recent social movements against it, the past year and a half have been particularly challenging for the Black community. Therefore, the debated issue of whether COVID vaccinations should be mandatory is particularly relevant for Black students at Historically Black Colleges and Universities.
Historically Black Colleges and Universities were initially established during the forced segregation within the American community. Although today African-Americans can legally attend any American or international university depending on their preferences and abilities, many still choose to enroll in HBCUs. This pattern is partly due to the sustained, systematic racism in the education sector, which can put African-American prospected students at a disadvantage. Often, the background of the Black prospected students will be lower socio-economically than of their White peers, which might lead to lower levels of pre-university education.
Universities throughout the US and around the world, similarly to other sections of society and institutions, are issuing regulations that mandate their students to get vaccinated before having access to campus. Over the past year and a half of the pandemic, different countries and organizations have attempted many different tactics and strategies. However, it seems that the mass vaccination strategy, together with selective isolation, is the most effective.
Description of the Issue
Mandatory vaccinations at HBCUs are a complex issue that requires research and consideration of many historical, political, and medical factors in order to be resolved. The rapid spread of COVID-19 and the constantly appearing new strains of the virus have pushed the international community to act in a state of emergency. According to BBC, the first person in the US to get vaccinated got his vaccine in early December 2020 (2020). It is evident that global attitudes towards the various Covid vaccines differ immensely. Some countries have implemented policies that incentivize people to get vaccinated – for example, Italy has abolished the travel-related quarantine for vaccinated visitors (Schengen Visa Info, 2021). As a result of certain policies, countries such as Israel, Malta, Bahrain, Aruba, and Mongolia, have achieved full vaccination rates of over half of their populations (Holder, 2021). While the longer-term effects of vaccinations remain unclear, the effectiveness of mass vaccinations is evident.
However, there is still a variety of reasons that some individuals resist the coronavirus vaccine. Since the vaccines have not been tested to a sufficient degree, as some may say, it isn’t easy to know the side effects they might bring in the future. Furthermore, in countries such as Australia and Russia, which have been open for months, there is little motivation for getting vaccinated. Within the United States and around the world, minorities are at a significant disadvantage when facing the virus. Due to insufficient access to education and medical care, many minorities might feel skeptical about the vaccine. This skepticism is further strengthened by the lack of Black participants in the covid vaccine trials, meaning an inadequate quantity of data about the effects the vaccines have on African-Americans (Murty & Payne, 2021). Nevertheless, many universities throughout the US, including HBCUs, have implemented mandatory vaccination policies for their students and staff on campus.
While there have been studies proving that a high vaccination rate is required for herd immunity to be developed within the international community, obligatory vaccinations are likely to cause a lot of outrage. There are several reasons why people might be opposed to compulsory vaccinations, including mistrust of authorities, negative past experiences with medical professionals, inadequate access to healthcare, and general distrust of the coronavirus vaccines in particular. In addition, out of the many existing coronavirus vaccines – Oxford-AstraZeneca, Pfizer-BioNTech, and Moderna being the most widely used globally (Holder, 2021) – none have had sufficient trial time. Furthermore, as mentioned above, there is very little representation of African-American clinical trial participants, adding to the mistrust of the Black community.
Implications for the Public Sector
The public sector, consisting of government-controlled organizations, affects the policy-making of private institutions such as universities. While most of the decision-making is usually done at the university level, the executive judgments have to take national and local regulations into account. Therefore, if the state government had announced vaccinations as obligatory, the universities would be forced to comply. The coronavirus vaccinations have not been made mandatory for the majority of the US population just yet; however, certain groups have been affected by obligatory vaccinations.
One of the reasons why the government has not made obligatory regulations about coronavirus vaccinations is the complexity of the problem itself. The ramifications can be catastrophic, with some vaccines already having caused deaths in those administering them. However, the smaller-scale communities and private organizations, such as colleges and universities, are issuing mandates for vaccinating their members, allowing the public sector to observe the consequences of such orders. Without taking upon themselves the responsibility for such regulations, which might or might not be helpful or harmful to the community, the public sector can plan further action based on how the vaccinations affect students and staff.
However, it should be mentioned that a large proportion of HBCUs is public, which means they have less autonomy in the decision-making process than private schools. They are also more likely to be free or much lower-cost than private institutions, meaning that the people attending them might not have as much access to medical care. They might, then, be more or less inclined to obtain the vaccines, depending on their personal beliefs.
Implications for the Nonprofit Sector
Nonprofit organizations often have specific ethically motivated goals that they strive towards, which often stem from the desire to help their communities. Therefore, the nonprofit organizations that belief in the vaccines’ effectiveness might feel inclined to ease access to vaccination centers for minorities and the students of HBCUs. Furthermore, they might attempt to educate the broader community on vaccines, pursuing better vaccination rates.
In the current spike in anti-racism movements in the US and around the world, the international community is particularly sensitive to the treatment of minorities and African-Americans in particular. Organizations such as the American Medical Association and AMA are fighting to increase the trust within the Black community towards the vaccine and raise awareness of the systematic racism in the medical system (Robeznieks, 2020). The AMA has created task forces to overcome the developed mistrust towards the American medical system from the African-American community, using various methods, including strategic messaging (Robeznieks, 2020). Furthermore, Dr. Corbie-Smith talked about the need for separating monetary donations and access to vaccines since it might increase distrust in the government (Robeznieks, 2020). With various strategies, there is hope that soon, the long-established lousy relationship between the Black community and the American medical system will be rectified, not just in the context of the Covid-19 vaccine.
Implications for the Private Sector
Many HBCUs are private, meaning that the decisions for the vaccination mandates would be made within the university. Furthermore, these universities and colleges are usually costly, which would mean a more significant incentive for the students to remain enrolled and comply with the regulations the university sets out. Private institutions are often commercially motivated and, therefore, might be more willing to do extra research for the sake of preserving their members. In this case, this would mean that the universities would be more inclined to go out of their way to examine the available vaccines and present their findings to the students. Furthermore, the private institutions might also have their own research facilities, which would aid their investigations. Moreover, it could mean student involvement in both the research and the decision-making, which would increase the vaccination rate due to knowledgeability.
Implications for Communities
On the other hand, the beneficial situation for the public sector is potentially damaging to the Black community. As mentioned previously, there is very little representation of African-Americans in the clinical trials for coronavirus vaccines. Therefore, HBCUs mandating their students and staff to get vaccinated to continue their studies can be seen as a lab-rat situation since there is little evidence so far available on the safety of vaccines. Furthermore, the Black community is further at risk due to a potential inability to refuse vaccination. Students from a higher socio-economic background can afford to take a year out of school or take all their classes from home if need be, giving them a choice to reject the vaccinations. On the other hand, those from lower socio-economic backgrounds might not be able to do so, meaning that they will practically be forced to choose between a potentially dangerous vaccine and their future.
According to Healthline (Mastroianni, 2020), as of December 2020, only 18% of Black survey respondents trust the effectiveness of the coronavirus vaccine. The comparatively low percentage is perhaps due to the long history of medical racism that African Americans have experienced. An example of such mistreatment is the Tuskegee experiments, which saw medical professionals conduct studies on Black individuals without their informed consent. The studies were on syphilis; however, none of the affected individuals were ever treated (Mastroianni, 2020). Furthermore, Dr. Diana Grigsby-Toussain, Ph.D., talks about “the eugenics movement” during which African Americans throughout the US were sterilized (Mastroianni, 2020) and unethical birth control trials throughout the years. The continuous, systematic mistreatment of the Black community explains the general mistrust of the current vaccines, especially with the lack of sufficient medical evidence to support their effectiveness and safety.
Education on the Matter for All
As previously mentioned, it is often believed that herd immunity, which might be the only way for the world to return to the pre-pandemic level of life, can only be achieved through mass vaccinations. Considering that it is currently impossible to have all of the information required – such as the long-term consequences of the vaccines – it is still crucial to gather as much information as possible. For the different communities and individuals to accept the vaccine, they must feel safe and educated about it. Therefore, a couple of preparational steps must be done for the vaccination rates to voluntarily achieve the levels required to ease covid restrictions.
Firstly, as mentioned above, it is crucial to increase the representation of minorities in clinical studies and trials. There needs to be a sufficient amount of information about the effects of the vaccine on people from different backgrounds and lifestyles. Although this is important for the Black community, it is also incredibly relevant for smokers, heavy drinkers, those with underlying conditions, and so on, or any combination of the latter. Presenting the findings from these trials and studies to the general public might put people’s minds more at ease, incentivizing them to get vaccinated if that is an available option for them. Alternatively, if the findings are negative and reveal potential health dangers, it would prevent many people from being affected by them.
Secondly, the general mass should be educated on the vaccines’ effects, dangers, and purposes. It is natural for humans to be afraid of things they do not understand, and the many conspiracy theories regarding the vaccines, such as the “chip” conspiracy (Islam et al., 2021), are caused by fear. However, if the population is educated on the vaccinations and the virus itself, it would decrease anxiety and increase understanding and engagement. Furthermore, having access to findings and current developments would allow people to feel more like a part of the studies and investigations, causing them to be more likely to accept the vaccines and to trust professional opinions.
In conclusion, it is difficult at this moment to know the consequences of mandating vaccinations on HBCU campuses. Although there has been some research to support mass vaccinations, it is not sufficient for obligatory vaccinations since many dangers might be involved. Furthermore, setting vaccinations as mandatory on Black campuses but not on the national level can seem discriminatory and hence might create a community outrage. Therefore, the logical course of action would be to continue the research into vaccinations, increase Black representation in the clinical trials, and increase access to vaccines for minorities. While it is unethical and counter-productive to mandate the students at Historical Black Colleges and Universities, it is crucial to educate them and the broader community on the matter.
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