National conversations surrounding vaccine mandates reflect campus views
Controversy over vaccine mandates have been a topic of heated debate both nationally and on Notre Dame’s campus.
“There’s nothing else that will perform that function better than incentivizing people, strongly, to vaccinate themselves. So whatever necessary means, whatever grave means, why isn’t this necessary and grave?” commented Justice Elena Kagan during the Supreme Court oral arguments concerning workplace vaccine mandates on Friday, January 7, 2022.
On September 9, 2021, the Biden administration announced its plan to work through the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to enforce a vaccine mandate for all businesses with over 100 workers. They intended to establish a “minimum vaccination, vaccination verification, face covering, and testing requirement to address the grave danger of COVID-19 in the workplace.”
The Supreme Court heard oral arguments on January 7 challenging the legality of the OSHA vaccine mandate, which required all workplaces to demand unvaccinated employees to wear a face covering at all times in the workplace and provide proof of weekly COVID-19 negative test results.
This directive was similar to the policy the University of Notre Dame took in the fall semester, which required vaccination but also permitted students to obtain an exemption from the vaccine mandate on the condition of weekly testing and indoor masking. Notre Dame subsequently expanded the requirement from the fall semester and announced a booster requirement for all students, faculty, and staff on December 6.
The OSHA policy went into effect on Monday, January 10, but the Supreme Court decision released on January 13 effectively discontinued the mandate.
In a per curiam opinion, the Supreme Court resolved that the mandate “exceeded OSHA’s statutory authority, raised separation-of-powers concerns in the absence of a clear delegation from Congress, and was not properly tailored to the risks facing different types of workers and workplaces.”
Since OSHA’s role is not to impose nationwide public health regulations, but simply to set workplace safety standards, the mandate expanded OSHA’s regulatory authority outside of its “sphere of expertise” without Congressional approval. With no precedent of setting public health regulations that affect employees outside of the workplace, OSHA lacks the right to impose a “significant encroachment into the lives—and health—of a vast number of employees”—over 84 million Americans.
This decision comes at a critical time for the University of Notre Dame which, among many other elite universities, has been involved in a fury of debates over the morality and justifiability of vaccine mandates.
Most were unsurprised by Notre Dame’s April 7, 2021, announcement to require vaccination for the fall semester. Rick Garnett, professor at Notre Dame Law School, told the Rover: “The requirement made it possible for us to loosen restrictions on campus in the late spring and to enjoy a nearly normal semester this past fall. Notre Dame has been a leader among institutions of higher education in our commitment to in-person education and formation, and the vaccination requirement was a prudent expression of that commitment.”
Nevertheless, mandatory booster shots came as a surprise to many at Notre Dame, especially since both the CDC and the standard released by OSHA state that being fully vaccinated is defined by “a person’s status 2 weeks after receiving the second dose of any combination of two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine that is approved or authorized by the FDA.”
The university has redefined the parameters for what it means to be vaccinated, in their email on January 7 stating: “In order to be considered fully vaccinated, Notre Dame students must have received two shots of the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccines, or a single shot of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, in addition to a Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna booster.”
Many students troubled by these mandates took to social media platforms in attempts to alert administrators of their aversion to COVID vaccination mandates. Account @noboosternd quickly gained traction on Instagram and began posting guides to receiving religious and medical exemptions at Notre Dame.
Following this, opposing students used the popular platform YikYak to expose supporters of this account and encourage viewers to promote masking and distancing when in their presence. The @noboosternd account now has 116 followers.
A petition against the booster requirement has gained over 600 signatures in just two weeks, and a poll of the student body was conducted to gain insight on student support of COVID policies for the 2022 spring semester—of 677 students surveyed, 52 percent support the booster mandate and 71 percent oppose to indoor mask requirements, even if Notre Dame does not reach the goal of boosting 90 percent of campus.
Professors have also expressed concern over these mandates, especially in regard to Church teaching. Magisterially speaking, the Catholic Church teaches that vaccines cannot be mandated to those who have a conscientious objection.
The Congregation on the Doctrine of Faith affirms, “practical reason makes evident that vaccination is not, as a rule, a moral obligation and that, therefore, it must be voluntary. In any case, from the ethical point of view, the morality of vaccination depends not only on the duty to protect one’s own health, but also on the duty to pursue the common good.”
Several students and professors argue Notre Dame’s mandate is inconsistent with Church teaching. “Notre Dame should be following the teaching of the Church, as a Catholic school, and thus not mandating either the vaccine or the booster,” said one professor in a comment to the Rover.
Twitter comments on Notre Dame’s account and student comments elsewhere reflect disdain for continuation of the vaccine and mask mandates and the reintroduction of early-pandemic restrictions:
“Another sad day in the history of a prestigious institution. Way to stand up for conscience rights, Notre Dame!”
“New year, new variant, same hostile bargaining techniques.”
“If we don’t stand firm against this nonsense now, we cannot reasonably expect to ever have a truly normal Notre Dame experience.”
“Omicron is like getting a cold. We should be leading, NOT sheeping. #GoIrish.”
“You should rethink this policy and lead with reason rather than act in fear.”
Resistance towards the mandates and restrictions from both students and faculty inspired by new studies showing vaccine inefficacy and the Supreme Court’s ruling against OSHA indicate that Notre Dame could fall short of its goal of boosting 90 percent of campus.
Merlot Fogarty is a sophomore theology and political science major. When she’s not pulling all-nighters at the library, she can be found drinking too much coffee in the law school library. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Image credit: University of Notre Dame