Before Michigan State University’s President Samuel L. Stanley Jr. announced that all MSU students, faculty and staff would be required to be vaccinated against COVID-19, Professor Scott Imberman wanted nothing more than the petition he helped create to become completely irrelevant.
“Nothing would make me happier than to make the entire petition moot because MSU has decided to implement a reasonable policy,” Imberman said on July 30, just hours before an email announcing the vaccine requirement was sent out.
Imberman, along with Professor Sarah Reckhow, were responsible for the creation and circulation of a petition calling on the university to tighten its COVID-19 regulations.
“We were just frustrated by the university's slow pace in coming to some new policies in light of the worsening public health situation in the country,” Imberman said.
Imberman said that he and Reckhow decided to create the petition as time started to run out for students to get fully vaccinated by the time they would arrive on campus.
“The more that any kind of vaccination requirement is delayed, the more problematic risk there is of an increase in contagion on campus,” he said. “And frankly, the more unfair it is the students, because then they won't have the time to really get things together before coming on campus.”
Reckhow said that her concern came from MSU’s lack of action as MSU’s peer universities adopted proactive approaches to control the spread of COVID-19 on campus.
“It takes up to around five weeks or so to become fully vaccinated,” she said, prior to the news that MSU would be requiring a vaccine. “It is almost August, and Michigan State hasn't announced any clear plans or policies along these lines.”
Professor and Field Crops Entomologist Christina DiFonzio said before the mandate that she expected to catch COVID-19 at some point.
“We're in really close quarters, we're talking to each other, we're using microscopes, I'm bending down to look at specimens,” DiFonzio said. “This isn't just standing in front of a class, eight feet away and talking.”
DiFonzio also signed the petition circulated by Reckhow and Imberman, prior to the vaccine mandate.
DiFonzio said that most professors were also in support of tighter COVID-19 regulations, even those that weren’t eager to get vaccinated.
“I have colleagues who ... weren't excited about getting a vaccine, but they saw that there was a good reason if we all got vaccinated, and that this could end, that that would be great,” DiFonzio said.
One of the reasons DiFonzio wanted to see stricter regulation implemented was to avoid conflict with students — she said that she didn’t want to have to enforce masks in a classroom setting.
“I’m not a policeman,” she said. “I’m a bug lady.”
She also said that she works with a lot of farmers who are usually around 50 years old, and that she wanted to avoid transmitting the virus to them.
Both Reckhow and Imberman said that the vaccine mandate has made them more optimistic about the coming semester.
“I was starting to get a bit nervous about in-person teaching, as was the other faculty that I spoke to,” Imberman said.
While there will still be positive cases on campus, Imberman said that he fully expects MSU to get through the semester without having to make the switch to online classes once again.
“I think what this does in particular, is it vastly reduces the possibility that we end up with another semester that suddenly has to go remote even for a little bit because of breakouts on campus,” Imberman said.
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“I was fully prepared to be back in the classroom and doing my job and everything, but it's just the overall disruption that could have occurred,” Reckhow said. “I'd much rather go into the semester with some level of confidence that we're going to move forward in person.”
She said that she thinks the biggest factor in MSU’s decision was the University of Michigan’s announcement that the vaccine would be required.
Reckhow said that the petition had reached about 1,640 signatures by the time of the announcement.
As a result of the mandate, MSU students, faculty and staff must have received at least one dose in a two-dose series of a FDA-approved or WHO-approved COVID-19 vaccine. Those that are not fully vaccinated by August 31 or are exempt from the mandate will be required to participate in MSU’s Early Detection Program.
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