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State College Borough Council Joins Call For Penn State To Require COVID-19 Vaccines

State College Borough Council has joined Penn State faculty, staff, and student groups in urging the university to require COVID-19 vaccinations before the start of the fall semester.

Council members unanimously endorsed a letter from council President Jesse Barlow to the Penn State Board of Trustees and President Eric Barron “to express the strong support” of calls to mandate vaccines for employees and students.

Barlow’s letter quoted from a recent message sent by student government leaders calling on trustees to hold an emergency meeting and vote to enact the vaccine requirement (with limited exemptions).

“The time to act is now,” they wrote. “There must be ample time for those who remain unvaccinated to become at least partially vaccinated by the start of Fall Semester. We have a duty to protect our communities and all those who belong in the Penn State community, and requiring vaccinations will ensure just that.”

“We could not agree more,” Barlow’s letter concluded.

Another, faculty-led letter, published Sunday by the Coalition for a Just University at Penn State, also called for mandatory vaccines for students and employees, as well as reintroducing masking and distancing requirements, weekly testing requirements, and flexibility for teaching modes. As of 1 p.m. on Tuesday, the letter has garnered 1,479 signatures — 738 faculty and 741 students, staff, and community members.

Penn State’s Faculty Senate and University Park Undergraduate Association both passed resolutions in the spring endorsing a vaccine mandate.

To date, however, Penn State has been reluctant to require vaccines. Instead, it has focused on incentivizing vaccinations by hosting free vaccine clinics on campus and offering weekly raffles and drawings for vaccinated students and employees.

More than 600 campuses nationwide are requiring at least some students and/or employees to be vaccinated against the virus, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education.

In the Big Ten RutgersIndianaMichigan StateNorthwesternMarylandIllinois, and Michigan each have vaccination requirements, although some let unvaccinated people bypass vaccines if they test negative for the virus each week.

Barron is scheduled to host a virtual town hall at 4 p.m. on Tuesday to discuss COVID-19’s delta variant, changes in on-campus health policies for the fall, and Penn State’s approach to the academic year.

The university’s failure so far to have a COVID-19 vaccine requirement represents “Penn State at its most unneighborly,” Borough Councilwoman Theresa Lafer said.

“I am tired of hearing magical thinking about medicine from a major university with a major hospital and med school attached to it, that our students somehow will not get sick and they will not bring this back to the people living in the community,” Lafer said. “That’s nonsense. Clearly, the people who make this decision do not live in this community and do not care about this community.”

She added that her neighbors have routinely told her they believe the community will have to go back to masking indoors and outdoors because there will be a large number of unvaccinated students.

“We have no way of even gauging what kind of numbers are not just susceptible to the [Delta variant of COVID-19] but completely susceptible, so instead of just having a minor case because they were vaccinated, having major cases which will once again overrun our regional hospitals and the surrounding communities where students do live as well as in town,” Lafer said.

Earlier this summer, Penn State launched anonymous, non-mandatory surveys to learn if students and employees were vaccinated. To date, the university hasn’t published any collected data and it’s unclear how many students and employees are already vaccinated against COVID-19.

The renewed calls for vaccine requirements come as the more transmissible delta variant spreads across the country. After declining for nearly three months, COVID-19 positivity rates, cases, and hospitalizations in Pennsylvania and Centre County have increased over the past several weeks.

Cases in vaccinated individuals are rare, and while those who do become infected could still spread the virus to others, they are less likely to do so than unvaccinated individuals.

“I’m not as concerned about the sheer number of people that attend and come here,” Councilman Evan Myers said. I’m concerned about where they’re coming from,” Councilman Evan Myers said. “The state of Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, we are highly vaccinated. Even though the number of cases is growing because of Delta it’s not that great as compared to other places. But we have lots of students from Florida and other places where it’s a big problem and I think we need to protect our community.

“It’s evident and obvious the university is going to be open for students and our community is open and I’m not suggesting that it shouldn’t be. I think it should be, because we know how to solve the problem. People need to get vaccinated. That’s how they solve the problem.”

Councilman Peter Marshall was succinct in his support of a vaccine requirement.

“I think the university would really be irresponsible not to do that,” Marshall said.

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About the Author

Geoff Rushton (StateCollege.com)

Geoff Rushton is managing editor for StateCollege.com. Contact him at [email protected] or find him on Twitter at @geoffrushton.

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