It seems probable the University System of Maryland expected some amount of pushback when it announced Friday that students, faculty and staff will be required to be vaccinated against COVID-19 in order to be on campus in the fall semester. Of course, it’s not ironclad, there will be exemptions granted for various medical or religious reasons.
Decisions of such scope and consequence often do receive criticism, fair or not. But the decision comes at a time when the trends regarding COVID-19 are worrying.
“If we examine the data — we see that the risk of vaccines is very low, whereas the risk of COVID is very high,” said University System of Maryland Chancellor Jay Perman. “And that risk is increasingly falling on young people. This is no longer a disease for the old. The data on the now COVID cases in Maryland show that 40% are patients under 40 years old.”
And Maryland is not alone in seeing this alarming trend. Reports are coming out of Oregon, Washington and Michigan of younger people getting sicker, a reverse in course from the early days in which older adults were struck the hardest.
In Oregon in the last month, the number of patients in hospitals has doubled, and the hospitalized have skewed younger, toward those in their 30s, 40s and 50s. Washington state has seen much the same, with Dr. Connie Davis, chief medical officer at Skagit Valley Regional Health, noting the younger patients often have obesity in common.
Michigan, which is currently in the midst of one of the worst outbreaks in the country, has seen people in their 30s and 40s admitted to hospitals at about twice the rate they were in the fall.
In each case, the demographic shift has been attributed to two things, which parallel Maryland and the Western Maryland region; the rise of inoculations among the older adult populations and the prevalence of B.1.1.7 variant of the virus — aka the UK variant — which is more transmissible.
What we can learn form the shift is the effort to vaccinate as much of the older population as possible is showing positive results — that vaccinations are the way out. It also tells us that it’s a race against time and infections. Variants are an outgrowth of infections.
On Monday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that of Americans over 65 years old, 67.7% are fully vaccinated and 81.7% are at least partially vaccinated. As of Tuesday, Maryland has fully vaccinated over 800,000 of its citizens 60 years of age and older.
Now obviously, your average college student isn’t in their 30s, 40s and 50s, but a lot of faculty and staff are, and will be in close proximity to the younger students.
We believe USM is making the right call, the unknowns considered, in requiring vaccinations to return to campus. Sometimes people need a little bit of prompting to get things done. The data as it has played out so far supports taking the chance on the vaccine, especially if it steers us out of this slow skid into a cyclical burnout.