Explaining Abbott’s proof of vaccine ban

Editor’s Note: This editorial first appeared in the April 20 issue of The Daily Texan.

Earlier this month, Gov. Greg Abbott said state organizations that receive public funding cannot require someone to provide proof they’ve received a COVID-19 vaccine. This executive order, signed April 6, affects more than just bureaucratic state agencies like the DMV. 

Public universities across the state are also prohibited from requiring students to prove they’ve been vaccinated. 

“Governor Abbott’s executive order is clear that organizations receiving public funding cannot require people to show documentation that they have been inoculated against the coronavirus,” Karen Adler, director of media relations and communications for the UT System, said in an emailed statement. “Accordingly, UT institutions will not require students to provide proof of a COVID vaccination before returning to classes.”

This executive order threatens student safety and well-being all over Texas. Here, we explain why.

How did Abbott justify the ban?

Abbott argues that “vaccines are voluntary and never forced,” and therefore state-funded institutions cannot withhold services from someone that chooses not to get the COVID-19 vaccine. While this reasoning comes across as egalitarian, the decision is undoubtedly partisan.

According to results from a February UT/Texas Tribune poll, white Republicans are the most prevalent group to either refuse or feel hesitant about receiving the COVID-19 vaccine. While the order should be focused solely on public health, Abbott’s decision clearly benefits his supporters

What’s wrong with the executive order and why is it dangerous?

It is normal for public universities to require students to provide proof of vaccines and screenings. 87% of campuses in the U.S. require a measles, mumps and rubella vaccine, also known as MMR, according to a 2019 article in the Journal of Law, Medicine and Ethics. 

At UT specifically, all incoming students are required to submit proof of having received the MMR vaccine, meningococcal vaccine and a tuberculosis screening. Requiring vaccinations on college campuses is not new, and it would not be out of the norm to extend these requirements to COVID-19. 

“It’s kind of weird how students get defensive about it because colleges already mandate a lot of vaccines, so I think mandating the COVID-19 vaccine would just be normal,” government freshman Santiago Pacheco said.

Without proof of the COVID-19 vaccine, UT has no way of knowing who could potentially spread the virus. Previous vaccination requirements were put into place for this very reason — to protect students from preventable diseases. This executive order is a danger to the health and safety of the entire UT community. 

How does this impact UT?

Students who don’t have easy vaccine access and other members of the community who, despite being vaccinated, have a greater chance of nonetheless contracting COVID-19 and experiencing serious illness, will be at risk if there are unvaccinated people on campus.

Additionally, vaccine distribution has been uneven — Black and Hispanic Texans are vastly underrepresented among those getting vaccinated across the state. Without a vaccine mandate, it becomes harder to protect students from marginalized communities and to ensure students who need it can access the vaccine. 

 Students looking to get vaccinated through the University can fill out UT Health Austin’s vaccine form to begin the process.  

According to Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, anyone who is currently based in the U.S. and wants to be vaccinated can likely do so by the fall. 

There are, of course, some exceptions. Biology freshman Edward Cheong is attending classes virtually in South Korea, where vaccine rollout is lagging. 

Despite worries about what a vaccine mandate would mean for international students, Cheong said he still supports UT mandating proof of vaccination if there are accommodations for international students. He also said he disagrees with Abbott’s order. 

“One it’s stupid, two it’s stupid, three it’s stupid. You have a way to possibly prevent (the spread of) COVID-19 by creating herd immunity and you just throw it out the window,” Cheong said. “It’s freedom to harm other people, and that’s just ethically incorrect and wrong.” 

Why does this matter?

If in-person classes and other activities are to resume as planned, students, faculty and staff will be around large numbers of people and at risk of contracting COVID-19 if not enough people are vaccinated. 

We’re tired of our governor making executive decisions based on political ideology, not safety. COVID-19 will continue to be a significant threat to Texas college students, faculty and staff safety for the foreseeable future –– something it seems the Governor’s Office made no effort to consider.