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IHL says Southern Miss does not need to mandate vaccines

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On Aug. 27, the Board of Trustees for Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning (IHL) voted against mandating the COVID-19 vaccine on college campuses.

Dr. J. Walt Starr, the president of the IHL’s Board of Trustees, helped announced the decision via a press release last Friday.

“The vaccine is clearly the best protection against COVID-19 infections, transmissions, and has been medically reviewed and approved by our country’s leading scientific experts,” said Starr. “However, the Board does not deem it prudent to require it as a condition of employment or enrollment, except at the University of Mississippi Medical Center and other clinical settings.”

The announcement came a little after the Pfizer vaccine got full approval from the FDA, which is expected to cause a sharp uptick in vaccinations across the country. But said approval has added fuel to a long-running debate across the country on whether or not the Biden administration should mandate the COVID vaccine.

This debate has gotten particularly heated around the topic of schools and, even more specifically, in elementary schools. No one under the age of 12 is allowed to be vaccinated, and a growing number of children have been hospitalized for COVID-related symptoms.

Though younger children are unable to receive the vaccine, more and more cities have begun mandating vaccines for the adults teaching them. Officials in New York City, one of the hardest-hit cities during the initial COVID-19 surge, have mandated that all teachers and staff members in public schools must be fully vaccinated to be able to go to work.

“We’re going to do whatever it takes to make sure that everyone is safe,” Mayor Bill de Blasio explained in a virtual news briefing.

Various universities around the country have also begun mandating vaccines on campus, with severe consequences – including disenrollment – for those who do not comply.

“I don’t see the online alternative as something that’s going to be offered in most cases for somebody who makes a choice to not be vaccinated,” said Peter McDonough, the Vice President of the American Council on Education, to USA Today. “If a person chooses to not meet a requirement they will, in all likelihood, have the same outcome of any other enrollment requirement that’s not being met, and not be invited to campus.”

Though the IHL decided against this same statewide mandate, it is still in full support of the vaccine. In the same press release from before, the IHL praised the efforts of universities across the state to get their students, faculty and staff fully vaccinated. 

The University of Southern Mississippi, for its part, has set up a long-running vaccine incentive program, promising a variety of prizes to fully vaccinated students. University President Rodney Bennett sent a schoolwide email to explain how Southern Miss will react to the news going forward.

“We are all continuing to work closely with state health officials, the IHL system office, and other universities in our state to determine the best path forward, together,” said Bennett. “We are grateful for your continued partnership in achieving our goals, and we ask each of you to continue to Do Your Part.”
Anyone still looking to get vaccinated can look for and schedule an appointment through www.vaccines.gov, or can call the on-campus Moffitt Health Center at 601-266-5390.

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