The Trouble With Mandates

Vaccines are not the only solution. It’s time for bold higher education leadership in the face of COVID-19, writes Tim Collins.

September 2, 2021
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Ever since the Nuremberg Code of 1947 that formed the ethical basis of all research and treatments today, the very first principle articulated, accepted and applied is the principle of voluntary participation.

During the initial stages of the ongoing pandemic, it was reasonable to accept greater treatment risks as we fought the virus and sought support from all corners to protect the most vulnerable. And we have done that quite well, both individually and as a society demonstrating a commitment to seeking the common good.

As we learn more about COVID-19, we must remember that we have never been able to create an effective vaccine against any coronavirus -- ever. The scientific communities from around the globe marshaled their efforts and, thankfully, produced a vaccination that continues to show it is safe and effective meeting an immediate need. I looked at a significant amount of data, discussed the common good with many and then decided personally that the risk was manageable for my medical condition -- so I was willingly vaccinated.

But my personal acceptance of the vaccination does not mean the risk-reward ratio is the same for everyone, and it does not suggest that arriving at a different selection of prevention or treatment is any less contributory to the common good.

Now that the initial surge has passed, we must engage in a vibrant national conversation on other tools to fight the virus, as well, such as the impact of natural immunity.

Vaccines are not the only solution for current and future phases of COVID-19, and it is poor public policy and questionable medical ethics to mandate them for everyone.

The American military tribunal at Nuremberg that began in 1946 -- a trial intended to hold accountable the perpetrators of forced medical experiments on human subjects against their will -- reminds us that requiring everyone to take this vaccination and the soon-to-be booster shots without the necessary evidence of the long-term effects is imprudent. This should be voluntary.

Few of us would ask a major corporation or our political leadership what should be done for high blood pressure, headaches or broken bones, because neither type of entity has the necessary competence in the health sciences. They display pure hubris in suggesting otherwise.

It’s the same with our nation’s colleges and universities. They, likewise, have no competency to wedge their institutions between health-care providers and their patients.

As a matter of historical fact, our colleges and universities have been the guardians of voluntary participation, or informed consent, for all research with an institutional review board process that is present on nearly every campus in America. Yet today we see higher education leadership across the country abandoning the ethical principles that guide us without sufficient evidence addressing the long-term medical and physical effects for what they are demanding of their respective communities.

We must step back from the ledge and adjust and expand our understanding of the risks involved in the many and various treatment options for a virus that has not been eradicated. We must return to modeling the ethical principles America established in 1947 for the world as the result of untold human suffering of the past -- and, thus, prevent it in the future.

Now is the time for bold leadership to ask the critical questions that further prevention and treatment recommendations. How do we in higher education integrate the interdisciplinary knowledge of our business, education, medical and public health scholars with our 20 months of experiential knowledge to create for an exhaustive list of intervention strategies that are easily understood and implemented to manage and mitigate a pandemic? What are the key questions that form a framework for our communities to ask themselves in making a judgment about accepting a vaccination? What are the research and analysis contributions we can make to the national dialogue to create a more informed citizenry? Last, do we need to create new collaborations to develop new tools that might accelerate the understanding of the long-term effects of the vaccine on an individual?

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Higher education is a vital part of the solution to our global pandemic. We hold a special place in society as a trusted resource that must be leveraged to align our public policy with the common good -- thus meeting the long-term needs of our nation. Let’s lead, rather than follow, in making vital contributions in this historic moment doing what we do best: model critical thinking.

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Tim Collins is president of Walsh University.


Tim Collins

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