Dear Members of the Methodist University Community,
Witnessing over 100 of our Methodist University students as they offered support and genuine care for each other while gathering at our free, on-campus vaccine clinic last week, I was encouraged by their spirit and by their understanding of the importance of getting vaccinated. It was inspiring.
An MU junior said: “I’m doing this for my brother at home and my friends here at MU.”
A freshman shared: “Getting this vaccine is not just for me, but for everyone around me.”
Another student offered: “We all want to stay on campus… we all need to do our part.”
From one of our parents: “I want to express a HUGE, sincere thank you for protecting the staff, faculty, and students at MU.”
The continuous theme of selflessness was wonderful, but not surprising. Forward Together has been our motto since last fall, and its accuracy — Monarchs thriving in the classroom and out, not having to move to remote learning like other schools — is assuredly because of the selflessness and care members of this community show toward each other. Forward Together we stand.
Now, like never before, COVID-19 is trying to upset our academic year. It’s creating groundwork for divisiveness, confusion, and doubt. It’s prepared to kick us out of residential living and in-person classes, shut down athletics, end student events, and force everyone home. Our chosen path to beat this unprecedented foe is to move Forward Together.
For us, and well more than 500 other colleges and universities across the nation, the best chance we have to keep our community safe while on campus is the protection that vaccinations have proven to offer. We have a moral obligation to address the ever-growing number of positive cases among unvaccinated students, faculty, and staff for their safety and the safety of those around them. The Delta variant is spreading like chicken pox, and overwhelmingly it’s the unvaccinated who are testing positive around the nation and on our campus. It’s the unvaccinated students who are showing symptoms, creating a need for quarantine and isolation in our residential halls, pushing Health Services and other department staffs beyond acceptable limits, and worst of all, becoming ill.
The safety of our MU community (our No. 1 priority) and continuing the semester on campus that our students and parents are so adamantly asking us to preserve were the driving force behind my decision to mandate vaccines for students by Oct. 15. That the FDA fully approved the Pfizer vaccine last week (having also already authorized the Johnson & Johnson and Moderna vaccines for emergency use) kept the decision in alignment with our previous messages indicating we were likely to move in this direction.
Though a majority of MU students, faculty, and staff are already vaccinated, we also appreciate that there are questions some have as they make their decisions. There is no “one size fits all,” so we considered all the data and guidance available, planned (which included plans to adapt quickly if necessary), and implemented what we believe will be best for all. We are appreciative of the health officials, doctors, educators, parents, and students who are thanking us for this safety measure. It warmed my heart that there were so many more positive responses than negative.
While the Forward Together COVID-19 Resource Web Site has answers to the vast majority of these questions — and includes a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) section — here are a few that may be helpful to some for additional clarity:
Q: Why did you announce when you did?
A: We previously shared that we would likely announce this move when the FDA fully-approved a vaccine. The FDA approved the vaccine last Monday. We met as a leadership team Tuesday, and I announced it Wednesday. First, I also carefully studied the exponential increase in infections on campus prior to making the decision and came to the conclusion that this was our best hope. I rushed the announcement out on Wednesday so that students could take advantage of the vaccine clinic on campus the next day. Had the FDA approved the vaccine three weeks ago, I most likely would have announced at that time. I chose Oct. 15 because that gave every student time to be fully vaccinated (on campus and otherwise). I also have an announcement regarding faculty/staff vaccination requirements forthcoming.
Q: After Oct. 15, can a student come onto campus without a vaccination if they wear a mask?
A: No, a student must be vaccinated to come onto campus after Oct. 15. While masking is certainly a deterrent, to remain fully open with residential living, in-person classes, full use of the cafeteria, athletics, etc., masking is not enough protection for the unvaccinated.
Q: What about exemptions from getting a vaccination?
A: MU is offering both medical and religious exemptions from being vaccinated, and the exemptions follow similar guidelines and requirements as the state protocols and those of other organizations and universities. To protect the unvaccinated who receive exemptions, they must follow safety protocols and wear masks indoors (and outdoors if not socially distanced), be tested weekly, and quarantine for 14 days upon symptoms or exposure.
Q: Can I just show an antibody test instead of getting the vaccine?
A: No. Both the CDC and FDA (along with state and local health officials) say they do not recommend using antibody testing to diagnose current infection or as evidence of immunity or resistance to the disease.
Q: Does the vaccine cause infertility, can I get COVID from the vaccine, if I’ve had COVID already, can I skip the vaccine?
A: The short answers are “no, no, and no.” Again, the CDC, FDA, nearly every health official around the world (including those locally and on our campus) agree with the science surrounding these topics, which shows that the vaccine is safe and that it is necessary even for those who have had COVID. To be approved, this vaccine has had to meet the high standards for safety, effectiveness, and manufacturing quality the FDA requires for all approved products.
Q: Can I take some of my classes remotely after Oct. 15?
A: If students choose to not comply with our vaccine requirement (without medical or religious exemption) and are prohibited from attending classes in person after October 15, MU cannot guarantee the availability of remote instruction for the remainder of the semester and approval is required. Students should speak to their advisors about any class decisions. Students who wish to request remote accommodation can click here to utilize the form for doing so. More detail is also available at Forward Together FAQ.
Please check Forward Together for more information, answers, contacts, details on our $25 gift card giveaways for vaccines and on using our Green Screen app, testing schedules, and much more. Be careful of misinformation spread via social media or other outlets and talk with your personal physicians or Health Services right here on campus – they are the experts you should trust. You also can reach out to email@example.com if you have additional questions.
I remain committed to our goals of safety first and keeping our campus open. Like the majority of our students, faculty, and staff, I remain committed to protecting others. For that reason, I became fully vaccinated several months ago. I care too much about my students, employees, and loved ones not to get vaccinated. I’m committed to constantly monitoring the situation with COVID on campus, locally, and around the state and nation; to maintaining contact with multiple health care officials; and to adapting quickly when necessary for the good of our campus community. Most of all, I’m committed to the MU community and our ability to battle and succeed against COVID together. While it’s easy to be divisive, MU is strong because of its vigilance and willingness to move Forward Together.
Stanley T. Wearden, Ph.D.