On December 31, George Mason University announced it has joined the growing community of universities requiring that students, staff, and faculty receive Covid booster shots for the spring 2022 semester. This requirement has been largely well-received, but it has prompted some questions that merit the university offering a deeper explanation.
Currently, 208 million Americans are fully vaccinated against Covid, with more than 74 million receiving booster shots, giving public health officials overwhelming proof that vaccines and boosters are the most effective tools we have to stop the spread of Covid.
In particular, data published by the National Institutes for Health show that Pfizer’s two-dose vaccine, while more than 90 percent effective against the first Covid variant, dropped to 60-70 percent against the delta variant after six months, and just 30 percent against omicron.
By contrast, Pfizer’s booster shot restores its effectiveness to 90+ percent against the delta variant and nearly 80 percent against the omicron variant. Vaccines and boosters undeniably stop most of the spread of omicron. Further, the New England Journal of Medicine reports that boosters offer significant reduction of risk across all ages, 16 and up.
With this evidence in hand, Mason opted to join nearly every major university in Virginia, Maryland, and the District of Columbia in requiring boosters for spring 2022.
There are three primary benefits:
1. Health and safety
The strong performance of boosters in mitigating the spread of Covid and reducing the severity of its symptoms means fewer members of our community will contract the virus, fewer will fall ill, and fewer will pass it on. This is particularly vital to the safety of the 850 students, faculty, and staff at Mason who are unvaccinated with approved medical or religious exemptions. It is also vital for the safety of those who are vaccinated but either have health vulnerabilities that are unknowable to those around them, or who live with vulnerable populations such as the elderly or children not eligible for vaccination. While there is evidence of a remote risk for hospitalization among individuals 16 to 29 years of age in very limited circumstances, this reduced risk level does not extend to all of our community. This is especially true for faculty and staff in older age groups. We are obligated to do what we can to protect them also.
2. Operational continuity
Widespread infections are creating massive economic and social disruptions that are avoidable, and are harming people’s livelihoods. Grocery stores are struggling to keep food on shelves, businesses are reducing services and hours of operation, and hospitals are experiencing record occupancy for the pandemic, such that in many cases they are not able to provide care to non-Covid patients.
Without intervention, large numbers of employees and students could get sick and be required to isolate at Mason. This could result in widespread classroom disruptions and reductions or temporary suspension of vital student and university services. Given how preventable this is, we are unapologetic in our determination to do what we can to avoid this sort of interruption at all costs.
3. Ending the pandemic
As we enter year three of this pandemic, we all want it to end. The best way to do so is to minimize the spread of the virus, which also minimizes its capacity to perpetuate itself by mutating into its next variant. No one likes these limitations on our lives, but they are temporarily necessary.
Fundamentally, the collective mindset required to end the pandemic isn’t about “me.” It is about “we.” And our commitment to working together is what is required to finally bring this cycle of illness, death, isolation, and disruption to an end.