Tripod Editorial: On Data Transparency and COVID-19 Vaccinations

Standing in line at the Xfinity Center in Hartford to receive a dose of the coronavirus vaccine was a rather surreal experience that more and more students have been fortunate enough to live through in the past few and upcoming weeks. The week of Apr. 1 saw a rush of internet traffic to various sources like Hartford Healthcare, the Vaccine Administration Management System (VAMS), and Saint Francis Hospital for a chance to register for a dose. 

Vaccination centers across the state have been rolling out doses of Moderna, Pfizer, and Johnson & Johnson, so why haven’t we received any other information on what to do once we receive the vaccine whilst still living on campus? 

We were very briefly told in an email sent by Dean Joe DiChristina on Mar. 30 to email the Health Center with confirmation of our vaccination upon receiving it, but ask any student if they have received any word back after doing so and they will say no. Does the College plan to keep track of which students are vaccinated and which are not? One would think so if they were planning to require vaccination to return to Trinity in the fall. This was a requirement that the Community Contract asked of students, so wouldn’t the administration want to know who has started to complete the task? It would seem that this would be the obvious avenue, to at least confirm receipt of a student’s vaccination record, and emphasize that as an important part of the student experience in the fall semester. 

DiChristina also sent out an email recently asking students to fill out a survey on their plans to get vaccinated, with an option to indicate they had been vaccinated already. However, doing so also did not merit any recognition. Granted, we are not saying that students should be “praised” for receiving a dose, only acknowledged so as to ease the minds of others and perhaps release information on the number of students already vaccinated. It would be helpful to have these numbers presented to the public eye as they become available, but obviously, the College has struggled with issues of transparency regarding COVID related matters before. 

The College has struggled in the past with data transparency on the COVID dashboard. Particularly in the fall semester, the dashboard was only updated twice a week, resulting in confusion and disarray when the case totals increased seemingly out of nowhere. To their credit though, the College has improved remarkably in this respect in the spring semester. In early February, the College announced that the dashboard would be updated daily, Monday through Friday, as well as with more information about the alert levels, students in quarantine/isolation, and the COVID situation in Hartford, and we applaud the College for doing so. But why stop there? At any given time, the dashboard only shows the current number of active cases and number of students in quarantine and isolation. There is no historical data whatsoever for any of these data which would surely provide for interesting analysis. Another interesting component of this data  that the dashboard does not include is demographic data such as gender, class year, etc. In addition, as data becomes available for student vaccination status, the College should be sure to include this information on the Dashboard if possible—though there could potentially be some legal or privacy concerns. 

As more and more students become fully vaccinated, a whole host of new questions will arise. Could a group of fully-vaccinated students socialize without masks? Can fully-vaccinated students have greater latitude for off-campus travel? Should fully-vaccinated groups of students be subject to the same capacity restrictions? 

These questions, though just a view, raise serious concerns of fairness and equity and the administration ought to get ahead of these difficult questions before it is too late.

Perhaps the biggest question of all: Should Trinity require students to be vaccinated to attend in-person classes for the Fall 2021 semester? Some Colleges, such as fellow NESCAC school Middlebury College, have required that students sign a health pledge, stating that they fully intend to get a COVID vaccine when possible. Most of these pledges include an exception for medical or religious exemption. Requiring students to get the vaccine to be able to attend in-person classes is the wrong approach.

It is our position that the College should not require the vaccine for attendance of in-person classes, but rather seek to incentivize students to receive the vaccination. The requirement of vaccination infringes on an individual’s right to bodily autonomy, and thus Trinity would be wise to ensure that it does not infringe on this fundamental right. Rather than requiring vaccination, the College could instead impose less stringent social and behavioral restrictions for vaccinated students compared to unvaccinated students, while still allowing unvaccinated students sufficient means and opportunity to have a successful in-person learning experience. Admittedly, this is no easy task—devising the right strategies and incentives—though it is essential to make sure that no vaccine requirement is imposed. 

To be clear though, we firmly believe that it is in everyone’s best interest and in the interest of public health to receive a COVID vaccination, though not at the cost of bodily autonomy.

We would encourage Trinity and its administration to aim for as much transparency as possible when it comes to policies and data surrounding student and employee vaccinations. These decisions should be made swiftly and soon so that all have time to prepare. We also implore the College to not require a vaccination for in-person attendance, and that they consider incentivization  regimes rather than compulsion.

-The Trinity Tripod

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