Wayne State community pushes for vaccine mandate for fall

Kim Kozlowski
The Detroit News
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Another university community is lobbying for a vaccine mandate for those returning to campus in fall. 

More than 700 Wayne State University professors, staff and students have petitioned the administration to require a coronavirus vaccine for students, faculty and staff to avoid outbreaks and promote safety.

"It would signal to all that Wayne State is a science-driven institution where Warriors recognize that vaccination is our civic duty," the petition says.

Dr. Toni Grant, right, Wayne State University, administers the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine to Alex Yang, WSU 3rd-year medical student, at the Campus Health Center on January 7, 2020.

Campus leaders presented Wayne State's petition, dated April 8, to President M. Roy Wilson and Provost Laurie Lauzon Clabo two weeks ago and added their support to the university's efforts so far, said Fabrice Smieliauskas, a Wayne State assistant economic professor. But they have not received a formal response.

In the meantime, petition sponsors began discussions with UM instructors, who are also lobbying university leaders to mandate a vaccine, to broaden the lobbying efforts to universities statewide before in-person instruction is expected to resume on many campuses in fall.

State lawmakers attached language to proposed state appropriations for higher education that bans the state's 15 public universities from mandating the COVID-19 vaccine. Development of the budget is still in the early stages and not yet been passed. But some regard the language not allowing universities to mandate the vaccine as a potential threat to state funding to public universities, which plays a role in student tuition. 

"Collective action across universities may be the best way to enable these (vaccine) mandates to occur in the state of Michigan," said Smieliauskas.

WSU spokesman Matt Lockwood said university officials are surveying students, staff, faculty anonymously to assess the magnitude of who has been vaccinated among its community, which includes 24,000 students who enrolled in winter semester. It also needs to analyze the impact of the incentive the president offered to buy lunch for students if they got vaccinated.

"We will consider this data and other COVID-related metrics before we consider taking any additional actions," Lockwood said.

Wilson recently said during a radio interview that, "we may be heading into a mandate" but added that the lunch incentive was showing positive results.

"I’d like to try to do anything possible to not issue a mandate," said WSU's president.

Oakland University was the first to announce in April that students living in residence halls would be required to get the vaccine.

 UM is requiring that students who live in the residence halls be fully vaccinated by July 15.

But WSU's petition says that does not go far enough. 

"Clusters of cases on campus disrupt campus operations," it says.

In April, Wayne State temporarily suspended in-person instruction, spring sports and other facets of campus life for 10 days because of rising coronavirus infection rates.

"A vaccination mandate would nearly eliminate these risks, increasing the perception of safety on campus and attracting students who would otherwise be hesitant to put themselves at risk," the petition says.

Smieliauskas added the petition was created to encourage  the university, "to come as close as we can to produce herd immunity which will keep every member of the community safe."

“If we don’t have herd immunity, a case where there are sufficient number of vaccinated people that will prevent infections from spreading, then every unvaccinated person on the campus presents a risk of contracting and spreading the virus," said  Smieliauskas.

kkozlowski@detroitnews.com

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