In a letter sent to the 10 presidents of the University of California campuses on Dec. 21, President Michael V. Drake mandated that all students, faculty, staff, and academic appointees are now required to receive a COVID-19 booster vaccination under the existing UC policy. This announcement came as the United States witnesses skyrocketing case numbers associated with the new Omicron strain of the coronavirus. The Omicron variant was first documented in the U.S. on Dec. 1 and is shown to be more transmissible than previous strains.
The COVID-19 booster shots are the third dose of the COVID-19 vaccine that is administered as the original vaccines’ effectiveness decreases over time. The CDC recommends getting a booster shot six months after receiving your second dose of the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine and two months after receiving the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Boosters are encouraged by the CDC based on their ability to prevent severe effects of contracting COVID-19 such as long-term illness and hospitalization.
As new cases now reach levels never before seen during the pandemic, the health and safety of students and staff on campuses have become especially prioritized. As of Dec. 29, there were 486,428 new cases of COVID-19 reported in the United States.
In a campus notice for UC San Diego’s Return to Learn Program, the Office of the Chancellor addressed the campus response to the virus, which includes a return to online learning and their recommendations for students returning to campus.
“In anticipation of a surge that may coincide with the planned start of our in-person, residential Winter Quarter, UC San Diego is exercising caution and moving our instruction to a remote-only mode from Jan. 3 to Jan. 17,” the statement read. “During this time we will incrementally populate the campus using a more comprehensive testing regiment.”
In a series of further emails sent on Dec. 21 and 22, UCSD Chancellor Pradeep Khosla outlined the benefits and expectations for vaccinations and the timeline omitted for students and staff.
“As mentioned in yesterday’s announcement, current vaccines combined with a booster dose are expected to protect against severe illness, hospitalizations, and deaths due to infection with the Omicron variant,” Khosla said. “We require that all faculty, staff, and students who are now eligible receive their booster no later than January 31, 2022. Those who are not eligible for a booster by January 17 will need to be boosted no later than two weeks after their booster eligibility.”
Students such as Eleanor Roosevelt College junior, Joaquin Quintero, view the mandating of the booster vaccine as a way to ensure a safer environment among the UCSD community.
“I fully support a vaccine mandate with medical exemptions,” Quintero said. “The mandate is a good idea because it requires us to fulfill our basic responsibility of cultivating a safer learning environment for all our fellow Tritons, allowing us to focus on learning, working, researching, and living with relative normality.”
Quintero also shared how the risks and effects of the variant outweighed any fears perpetuated by mandating vaccines.
“While I feel a degree of concern and continue to exercise COVID-conscious practices, I am less worried about the mandate in and of itself than I am of the Omicron variant,” Quintero said. “Knowing that virtually all the Tritons I will interact with will be vaccinated with a booster does make me feel safer. ”
For other students, such as Earl Warren College senior Anna Dan, the statistics released and risks associated with contracting coronavirus outweigh any sort of fear and reluctance with supporting the mandate.
“I am getting my booster and I planned on getting it before it was even mandated,” Dan said. “I can sympathize with the freedom of autonomy arguments, but really there are so many other vaccinations we’ve been required to get as students/employees such as the flu and meningitis shots. As a student, my goal is to continue going to school and getting an education. If a vaccine — that is researched and tested by top scientists — is what will guarantee that, then I’m going to have some faith and get vaccinated.”
Dan expressed to The UCSD Guardian the belief that mandating boosters is just one of the means that provide campus officials with the ability to approve for students to once again meet for clubs and activities.
“The mandate also ensures a greater probability of returning to in-person events which are vital for clubs such as Urban Changemakers, which depends on interactions with the students, staff, and faculty at UCSD to foster a greater sense of community and inclusivity on campus,” Dan added.
For UCSD students and staff, vaccine booster appointments are currently available on campus at Price Center and by drive-up at two UCSD Medical Centers: La Jolla and Hillcrest. Further information about clinics and appointments for California residents can be found here.
Photo taken by Irvin Yang for The UCSD Guardian