SGA votes to mandate COVID-19 vaccine for students this fall

The Student Government Association (SGA) voted to recommend Suffolk University require students to receive the COVID-19 vaccine in order to return to campus in the fall.

Thirteen senators voted in favor of the resolution, while seven opposed and five abstained from the vote at SGA’s general meeting Thursday. Senators Marissa Kearney, Stephen Merrick, Kostas Loukos and Vice President-elect Stephen Rykola co-authored the resolution.

SGA collected data through an online survey between March 30 and April 6 on how students would feel about Suffolk requiring the COVID-19 vaccine for the Fall 2021 semester.

The data collected showed that 306 students, or 14% of the student body, responded to the survey. According to the survey, 73.2% of students said they think the school should require the vaccine either with or without exceptions for religious or medical reasons.

Results from the SGA survey (SGA)

During the SGA meeting, members also heard from Tracy Allen, the director of Medical Operations at Suffolk’s CHW and the head of the university’s COVID-19 Task Force.

Allen said she has constantly been meeting with other local and state-level COVID response teams over the last year to discuss safety procedures. She told SGA members that Suffolk has been following COVID-19 guidelines that have been suggested by healthcare professionals and organizations.

Stephen Merrick, Class of 2024 senator, asked about other colleges and universities that have announced their requirements for the vaccine, and why Suffolk seemed to be more hesitant.

Allen said that when she spoke about mandating vaccines with a contact she has at Boston Public Health, she was told that “it would be best if we waited.”

“Until we can ensure that students can have access to this vaccine, we’re not going to require it and create barriers for people who didn’t or couldn’t have that access,” Allen said.

Allen enrolled Suffolk in the Massachusetts Immunization Information System, which would allow the university to offer vaccines at CHW “if and when” it is able to do so, she said.

If Suffolk is not approved to administer the vaccine on campus, Allen explained, CHW will help students find somewhere to get the vaccine that works the best for them.

Results from the SGA survey (SGA)

Many senators had questions relating to vaccinations for international students after concerns arose about COVID-19 vaccines that are approved in other countries, such as AstraZeneca’s vaccine, but not in the United States.

Currently, there are five mandatory vaccines international students must receive before living on campus at Suffolk. According to Allen, students are allowed to receive any provider of a vaccine that they have access to.

Since there is not a requirement on which brand of vaccine students should receive for any of the other mandated vaccines, Allen said she would be surprised if the Suffolk administration only accepted certain vaccine brands for COVID-19.

SGA Vice President Lukas Phipps mentioned that international students have the option to receive the vaccine in Massachusetts, as long as they study in the state.

Once the resolution was brought to the floor for an open debate period, the idea of tabling the vote was expressed by many SGA members. Logan Casey, a senator at large, initially brought up the idea of tabling the resolution during the meeting.

“We absorbed a lot of information from [CHW]… I think waiting a week and letting this get posted in the Facebook group so others can see what conversation just happened [would be best],” Casey said. “Now that we’re in voting procedure, we can’t go back, we have to say yes or no. I’m voting no and I hope others will say no, but I would normally say yes.”

Class of 2022 Senator Megan Dyer said the conversation with Allen also influenced her vote.

“With what we just heard from CHW, it was an amazing conversation and I’m grateful that we had it but I think it actually made my decision more clear to vote yes,” Dyer said. “I urge every student that can to get the vaccine.”

Since the meeting was already in voting procedures before the idea of tabling the resolution vote for another week was mentioned, members continued the process and voted during this meeting.

The presentation will be taken to the Suffolk administration, who will decide whether or not to mandate the vaccine on campus.