Raizada: Mandatory COVID vaccines on campus will give students freedom

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Two million Canadian college and university students will start congregating in early September. As three to four weeks are required between mRNA vaccine doses, and an additional two weeks to develop anti-COVID antibodies, July 21 to 28 is the deadline for students to get their first shot of COVID vaccine before Sept. 1. However, one-third of all 18-to-29-year-olds have not received even a single dose.

Here’s what I fear will happen in September as a result, from my vantage as a professor who has overheard many cafeteria conversations (despite my best efforts).

On their first Thursday, Friday or Saturday night (or possibly all three), students are going to party. And after 18 months of being locked up, they are going to party hard, especially off-campus — far from the eyes of parents and the COVID  regulations of administrators. They will party indoors as it gets increasingly cold. They will not encourage one another to keep their masks on — hard to do when you’re sipping beer from little red cups. They won’t be asking for proof of COVID vaccination at the front door.

Since the Delta variant can spread between unmasked passers-by within 10 seconds, these off-campus parties across Canada will become potential super-spreader events. Here’s how:

Since the unvaccinated were not responsible or organized enough to get fully vaccinated in the first place, they are unlikely to get COVID tested. They will assure themselves that they have only have a common cold; it will be fall, after all. Many will be asymptomatic anyway.

Each infected student, over 14 days, will then unknowingly transmit COVID on the subsequent Monday to their peers, as they eat lunch and drink coffee without masks; then on the following weekend to their high school girlfriends and boyfriends at other campuses; and the weekend after that, to their families when they return home, including their 50-something parents (of whom 20 per cent have also not received a single vaccine) and their under-12 siblings (100-per-cent unvaccinated). A percentage of all of these age groups will sadly develop long-haul COVID symptoms that will not be fully appreciated for many years.

The super-spreader parties will be fuelled by COVID seasonality, the return of primary and secondary in-class learning, and the opening of workplaces — the perfect storm. Emerging variants, beyond the fraternal Beta-Delta-Gamma we have now, will add to fear on campus as case numbers mount. Institutions will then sequentially shut down campus gyms, cafeterias, large classes, tutorial sections, all on-campus social events, and eventually all in-person learning. Students will go home by winter — again.

What will be the result? A few post-secondary students will become evidently sick; the smallness of the number and the short-term mildness of the disease are the misguided calculus of decision-makers. But the above scenario shows that the secret lives of post-secondary students off-campus will endanger the whole society. Moreover, an entire generation of beautiful, social, eager, caring and vulnerable young people will go back into isolation. Many will become clinically depressed. They will miss out on the most special time in their lives — which is not classroom learning, but finding a soul-mate, making life-long friends, and talking about life, love, passion, ideas and angst on a Friday night. They will never get this time back.

When premiers or university/college administrators (with the exception of Seneca College) state they do not want to take away the freedoms of young people by mandating COVID vaccination, they have it exactly backwards. Vaccination will grant their freedom, just like mandatory vaccines against polio has brought youth 70 years of freedom.

So students: Please write to your college and university presidents and ask them to protect your freedom to be young (and learn) by mandating COVID vaccines for on-campus attendance. But don’t rely on leaders; show off your vaccination certificates with friends online by making TikTok or Instagram videos. Remind your friends that vaccines are not contagious; they need to get jabbed. Tell them that two billion people on Earth have already received at least one dose. Tell them that scientists have been working on mRNA vaccines for 20 years, not one year.

July 21 to 28 is the last week for college and university presidents, or premiers, to mandate full vaccination for on-campus learning. Mandatory COVID vaccinations will protect the freedom to be young.

Manish N. Raizada is a professor and molecular geneticist at the University of Guelph.

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