by Giselle Rhoden
Following the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) Aug. 23 approval of Pfizer’s covid-19 vaccine, Bellarmine announced three days later that all BU community members must be vaccinated. An email from Vice President of Student Affairs Helen Grace Ryan said, “All students, faculty and staff members will need to be fully vaccinated by October 8, 2021.”
Dean of Students Dr. Sean McGreevey said, “It’s time to do your part for your community.” McGreevey said he expects all students to receive a vaccine by the deadline because the university gave everyone time to receive both doses of the Pfizer vaccine and an extra two weeks for the vaccine to take full effect before the Oct. 8 deadline.
Students can receive the vaccine on campus every Monday in Frazier Hall by appointment only. McGreevey said there is a limited number of vaccines that can be administered each day, but also said he is confident Bellarmine will be able to give every student a vaccine by the Oct. 8 deadline.
Some students said they think the mandate is what Bellarmine needs.
First-year student Brianna Dukes said, “I wasn’t really that surprised because the school system doesn’t want to go back online, so I feel like they’re trying to do what’s best in their power to like keep the numbers down…..They’re trying to keep a lid on it before everything explodes.”
Others said they think it’s a good idea to encourage students to get vaccinated but there is no need to require the Covid-19 vaccine. Junior Sasha Domenech got vaccinated by choice, but she said she wants students to be able to make that choice. “Students pay a lot to stay here and learn not to adhere to medical standards,” she said.
Although getting a vaccine is required, McGreevey said he understands it may not be an easy action for some students. He said, “It is very personal decision to put something in your body.”
As a result, the Office of Student Affairs has created the Immunization Exemption Review Committee that will oversee any exemption requests. The exemption must be for medical or religious reasons. Students can submit an exemption form for either health services or the committee to approve.
Bellarmine junior Vincent Ricketts applied for an exemption. As a devout Catholic, Ricketts said he believes receiving the vaccine has “unethical derivations.”
“I don’t have a morally sufficient reason to get it,” Ricketts said, “There is a spiritual dimension to it.” He said he was surprised that Bellarmine allowed religious exemptions, but he was happy that the university respected his beliefs. Rickett’s exemption was approved by the committee.
Committee member Dr. Pam Cartor, associate dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, said she thinks Bellarmine is taking a step in the right direction by offering exemptions.
“Bellarmine wants to balance two different things: its commitment to the community of care,” Cartor said.
She said she wants everyone to do their part to keep the Bellarmine community safe and healthy.
Cartor said, exempt students must be tested for covid every week, wear a mask and accept all risks of exposure.
Students who decide not to get a vaccine and do not submit an exemption form will be required to take weekly covid tests.
“It’s either vaccination or testing,” McGreevey said.
If a student does not take the vaccine or get weekly testing, the university will refer to the code of conduct to determine the consequences.
Covid tests are available to all students. Students can schedule appointments through the Office of Health Services to receive a rapid test. Covid testing is also offered every Monday in Fraizer Hall from 8 a.m. to noon.
Along with covid tests, Bellarmine is administering vaccines to students with the help of Wild Health, a medical company operating under a contract with the Commonwealth of Kentucky. Wild Health administered around 1,000 free vaccines to students in April 2021, McGreevey said.
According to Ryan’s email to the student body, “Though we may be one of the first universities in Kentucky to implement a vaccine requirement, we are not alone.” Bellarmine joins Centre College and Berea College as the only three Kentucky universities to mandate a covid vaccine for all students.
“Bellarmine is not afraid to be a leader of higher education in the state,” McGreevey said.
Both McGreevey and Cartor said they encourage students to think about getting vaccinated if they cannot file an exemption.
Students want others to do more research into all the vaccines before they decide to get vaccinated. “It’s very important but…for my medical advice, you should get all types of vaccines but you should also know your body,” said Dukes.
Domenech said, “Go with your gut….But don’t let other people pressure you into getting it.”
McGreevey said the mandate is not just about students and their education but also about the entire Bellarmine community. “My wife was a healthcare worker…personally seeing the impacts of covid on our campus and then my wife working on the Covid floor at Norton Audubon, I felt really compelled to protect myself but to also protect my family and protect my community,” McGreevey said.
Said Cartor: “It was something I was doing for myself, but it was something I was doing for the community when I saw the impact that covid was having and I just knew that if we don’t all step up and get vaccinated, we would need to extend this pandemic longer than we ever imagined.”