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Some Penn Staters concerned as semester starts without a vaccine requirement

  • By Jade Campos/WPSU
FILE PHOTO: Students wearing masks on Penn State's University Park campus.

 Min Xian / WPSU

FILE PHOTO: Students wearing masks on Penn State's University Park campus.

(State College) — Penn State’s fall semester begins Monday with almost all classes in person.

The university is requiring all people to wear masks indoors on campus. However, the university announced in a town hall on Aug. 3 that it wouldn’t require vaccines.

Most classes are scheduled to be held in person this fall. The university isn’t requiring remote class options for students who need to quarantine.

Many faculty and staff members have expressed concern, asking for a vaccine requirement.

David Vanness isn’t teaching classes this fall but believes Penn State is putting professors and students in a difficult position. He said the vaccine should’ve been mandated as the Delta variant continues to spread.

“Really comparable institutions like Michigan, University of Virginia, and Indiana University all require vaccination for students to return to campus,” Vanness said.

Vanness was unhappy with the town hall because audience members weren’t able to ask questions. He said the university used “outdated information” for the town hall and should’ve talked with more immunology experts.

For classes, Vanness believes remote options would’ve made people feel safer on campus.

“I think that that is setting up students to fail and faculty up to be in a very difficult position of having to deal with this on a case by case basis,” he said.

Some faculty have planned a virtual protest to demand a vaccine mandate. They will teach their classes on Zoom for the first two days instead of having class in person.

The university announced faculty who participate may receive punishment.

As a Penn State professor and a community member, Mark Kissling worries about teaching in person with two children at home who are too young to be vaccinated.

“I have a personal worry and I worry for all family members whether they might bring the virus home to their unvaccinated children who are either not vaccinated or vaccinated for health,” Kissling said.

Kissling said he also worries about the local school systems. He’s glad to see schools and universities in the area require masks but believes social distancing hasn’t been considered along with a vaccine mandate.

The State College Borough Council urged the university to mandate vaccines before the town hall. It cited a “duty to protect our communities.”

Kissling believes Penn State hasn’t done enough to consider State College in its decision making over the past year. He said local municipalities should continue to pressure the university to make safer choices.

“It’s hard to see that the university considers the local community on the level that it should. I have no doubt that there was some thinking and certainly communication with local entities, but it’s hard to see that the community is centered in that conversation,” Kissling said.

While some professors may be unhappy with Penn State’s plans for the fall semester, sophomore Brandon Walker believes the university handled the town hall well.

Walker said he’s vaccinated but understands why some people don’t want to be vaccinated. He believes people should be more open to conversations about the vaccine to encourage higher rates.

“It’s not like demonizing people who aren’t vaccinated. We have to be more accepting, you know, we have to create an open dialogue, a discussion about just getting vaccinated,” Walker said.

Walker believes no remote class options for students in quarantine could be a good thing. He said it will push more people to be vaccinated.

“If you’re missing class for two weeks, that’s like a death sentence. Most people can’t do that unless you’re like the next Albert Einstein,” he said.

Penn State immunology professor Amanda Clase said the vaccine is a proven way to protect against COVID-19. She says it’s estimated that 70% of a population needs to be vaccinated to have good protection against the virus.

“The delta variant seems to be more infectious or easily spread and so that number may go up. The bottom line is the more people we can get vaccinated, the better,” Clase said.

On Aug. 12, Penn State announced about 80% of University Park students who responded to a survey said they were fully vaccinated. At the time, about 70% of University Park students had submitted their vaccine cards.

In Centre County, almost 80,000 people are fully vaccinated. That’s less than half of the county’s residents, some of whom are too young to be vaccinated.

Clase said there is no right answer about whether an organization or business should mandate the vaccine though she believes it shouldn’t have to be mandated. Instead, people should just do their duty to protect others.

“It really comes down to social responsibility and people’s willingness to make an effort to stop this pandemic, and it’s really incumbent on each individual to do what they can,” Clase said.

She doesn’t think the number of infections will be as high as last fall. She believes and hopes the vaccine will keep rates lower.

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