Earlier this summer, despite the fact that over 600 colleges and universities had already announced that they would mandate vaccinations when students returned this fall, UW System President Tommy Thompson refused.
His fig leaf of an excuse was that none of the vaccines had received final, formal approval from the Food and Drug Administration. Never mind that those second- rate legal departments at schools like Harvard, Yale and Stanford had decided that it was legally safe to mandate the vaccine. Tommy knew better.
Well, now the Pfizer vaccine has won that final approval. So, Gov. Thompson?
The University of Minnesota shared Thompson’s concern. But on Aug. 23, the very day that the FDA made its announcement, Minnesota said it will now require vaccinations. Minnesota joins seven other Big Ten schools doing the right thing by their students and staff: Indiana, Rutgers, Northwestern, Maryland, Illinois, Michigan and Michigan State. (It should be noted that some of those schools will allow individuals to remain unvaccinated if they are tested weekly.) And Indiana’s requirement survived a legal challenge even before the final FDA approval.
It wasn’t just Minnesota. Since the FDA’s final approval was announced 100 more schools have required the vaccine, bringing the total to 800.
And of course, a cascade of private and public employers are now requiring the vaccine, including the U.S. military.
Colleges and universities are super spreaders by nature. Students live in close proximity in dorms and apartments. They pack lecture halls. I’m told that here at the UW they sometimes attend parties and go to bars. And, then, at some point they go home, carrying what they’ve got to communities across Wisconsin and the world. In short, if there are any institutions where it’s really important to require vaccinations it’s universities.
Sure, Sen. Steve Nass (R-Whitewater) and the Republicans’ bat-shit crazy caucus will be up in arms. Nass will use his position as co-chair of the Joint Committee for Review of Administrative Rules to try to block the move. But he’s tried that with the UW’s mask mandate. This week, to his enormous credit, Thompson essentially told Nass to take a hike. He told Nass that the UW will not comply with the committee’s demand that they put the mask requirement in an official rule just so that the committee can suspend it and kill the requirement. There’s no reason that the UW couldn’t follow the same strategy here.
(In an earlier blog on this subject I criticized Thompson for failing to act because he was pandering to Republican partisan interests. Tommy called me to take issue with that. His action defying Nass suggests that he was right and I was wrong.)
There’s one final reason to mandate the vax. The UW is in competition for the best students and professors. Any university that doesn’t require that their students and staff receive a scientifically proven vaccine to prevent the spread of pandemic will look backward. The damage to the UW’s reputation would far outlast the pandemic.
And if all that isn’t enough for you, how about this? The Big Ten has announced that any team that can’t play a game because their players have COVID won’t get that game rescheduled. Instead, it will be counted as a loss.
I have no doubt that Tommy Thompson loves his alma mater. I have no doubt that he wants to do the right thing by it. I have no doubt that he understands just exactly what the right thing is. And this week, while reiterating that he wouldn’t require vaccinations for now, he left the door open to changing circumstances.
Circumstances are changing fast and in the wrong direction. It’s time to require vaccinations on campus.
Postscript: Since I first wrote this, Republican leadership has balked at supporting Nass’ demand that they sign off on suing Thompson. That’s good news, but what’s likely to happen next is that the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty will take up the case and it will wind up in court anyway.
A version of this post originally appeared in Isthmus.
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