On Feb. 16, the Faculty Fight Club debated a variety of perspectives about the COVID-19 vaccine. This included two faculty members who argued in support the vaccination, one who is hesitant and would like more information before receiving it, and two members who are opposed.
The purpose of the debate was to model healthy disagreement for students and inform people about the vaccine. The faculty were assigned a side to argue for the purpose of the event. However, these arguments do not necessarily reflect their personal views, and all of the faculty mentioned plan to get vaccinated when they are able to do so.
The event was co-hosted by Tri Beta, Gamma Sig, and the Science Club. Dr. Sheila Confer, director of the Academic Village and instructor of theatre arts and first year studies, and Professor Jennifer Ingram, instructor of biology, moderated the event.
Arguments in Support of the Vaccine
Dr. Matthew Johnson, assistant professor of biology, feels “it would be safer to receive the vaccination than becoming infected with the virus.” At the event, he argued:
- The government provided $9 billion for development of the vaccine, so it was quick.
- Example: The Ebola vaccine in 2014 was developed quickly for the same reason.
- The government has been working with mRNA based vaccines since the 1990s and looking at SARS-COV-1 since 2002, which is another reason the development was quick.
- The vaccine has not resulted in death, and there has been significantly less hospitalizations among those vaccinated.
Dr. Ron Ott, director of healthcare management, feels “our only hope of stopping this pandemic is the vaccine.” He received both doses of the vaccine and has not experienced any side effects. He also feels the “benefits clearly outweigh the risks as it an advantage of being a positive safety effect.” Dr. Ott raised the following arguments at the event:
- There are about 28 million COVID-19 cases, with about 100,000 added per day, and more than 500,000 deaths in the U.S.
- “Vaccines have been proven effective throughout modern history.”
- For example: smallpox, polio, and measles vaccines
- 5.5 million doses have already been given, resulting in only minor side effects
- Individuals who are able to receive the vaccination can protect those who cannot, such as:
- Some pregnant women
- Individuals with suppressed immune systems
- The vaccine is 95% effective.
- The vaccine is not a live virus, therefore, you cannot get COVID-19 from it.
- The federal government funded the development of the vaccine and there were tens of thousands of volunteers to test it, which is why the development was rapid.
- If everyone waited for the vaccine to be inclusive to all strains, more people would die.
Why Some Are Hesitant to Get the Vaccine
Dr. Boothe, assistant professor of chemistry, explained why some may be hesitant to receive the vaccine. He feels “there’s just a little bit of the unknown out there, but this is definitely not to say I’m anti-vaccine.” He argued:
- The rapid development of the vaccine can compromise the quality of the vaccine.
- It is best to learn as much information as possible before making a decision.
- It is too early to know the long-term effects.
- Individuals with unique risk factors do not have enough information to rely on and may not be able to get the vaccine. For example:
- Those with a history of respiratory illness
- Pregnant women (The information that is out there has been changing, such as the recommendations for pregnant women according to the World Health Organization.)
Arguments Against Receiving the Vaccine
Dr. Barbara Barnhart, program coordinator and instructor of biological sciences, argued that some may need more data before receiving a vaccine. At the event, she mentioned:
- Early trials were conducted while people were social distancing. Now that people are starting to leave their homes, gather, and work, this may compromise the efficacy of the vaccine.
- Most volunteers may have been social distancing, therefore, the results are not applicable to the general population.
- The clinical world is not the real world.
- We cannot be sure of the long-term effects.
- For example, the Lyme disease vaccine was hurried and pulled off the market because it caused rheumatoid arthritis.
- Pennsylvania changed the list of groups eligible to receive the vaccine in each phase, and the changes were confusing.
Dr. Olivia Long, associate professor of biochemistry, explained arguments against receiving the vaccine for social justice reasons. She feels “we should be fighting for the most vulnerable populations to get the vaccine,” and mentioned:
- Most medical trials prey on communities from disadvantaged socioeconomic backgrounds.
- The COVID-19 vaccine is approaching communities differently, and those of privilege are receiving the vaccine first.
- Not all groups have been represented in trials yet, such as children and pregnant women.
- Those who have been disadvantaged before will not trust the medical community now.
- Those who are miles away from centers offering the vaccine will not be able to go.
- Some vulnerable groups, such as the elderly and those without internet, will not be able to schedule an appointment to receive the vaccine, as most vaccine centers schedule appointments online.
- COVID-19 has shown us the socioeconomic differences in populations and its impact.
Professor Ingram presented an educational PowerPoint she made with Dr. Ryan Jennings, assistant professor of biology. Here are the major points of their presentation:
- A vaccination prepares the cells in the body to fight against an infection by helping the cells recognize a virus and remember how to remove it from the body.
- Receiving a vaccination may produce side effects, but the side effects when becoming naturally infected are much more dangerous.
- Many common vaccine side effects, such as muscle soreness and fatigue, are actually signs that vaccination was successful, and the body is prepared to fight against the virus in the future.
- Community (or herd) immunity is when a majority of the population (50 to 95 percent, depending on the population density) is vaccinated so that those who are vulnerable and can’t be vaccinated (such as infants and individuals with compromised immune systems) are protected.
What This Means for Our Campus
At the end of the event, President Dr. Robert Gregerson provided a presentation to illustrate how these current events affect Pitt-Greensburg. He said:
- We will need approximately 80 percent of the campus population to either receive the vaccine or have natural immunity in order to reach herd immunity.
- Approximately 100 students/faculty/staff are currently vaccinated.
- The goal: 1,100 students vaccinated and about 150 staff/faculty vaccinated (1,300 total)
- In the fall, Pitt-Greensburg had a low amount of positive cases because:
- Everyone socially distanced
- Everyone wore masks
- The campus was sparsely populated.
- When the campus reaches herd immunity, all students, faculty, and staff will be able to return to in-person classes/work.