UL Making COVID-19 Vaccines Mandatory?

UL President, Julius Sarwolo Nelson 

Since students, at designated points during the academic year, will have to present a negative COVID-19 test result.

The University of Liberia has warned students wishing to attend in-person classes that they will, at specified intervals, be made to present a negative coronavirus test result.

The University, as part of its reopening policy, has disclosed that students signing up for in-person classes are “highly encouraged to take the COVID-19 vaccine or, at specified intervals, present negative COVID results.”

While the University’s COVID-19 vaccination policy is not mandatory, the issue of the negative test result is the bait that the university might be using to have its student population vaccinated.

The University administration might also be concerned that mass in-person learning with lots of unvaccinated students is a great risk to take in the wake of the third wave of the Coronavirus in the country. However, to avoid huge public backlash, they decided not to make the vaccine mandatory for students to return.

“Since the vaccine is not mandatory, a negative COVID-19 test result must be shown at some point during this semester,” says Norris Tweah, UL Vice President for Public Affairs. “Maybe a professor may raise the issue that he or she does not feel comfortable teaching people who are unvaccinated.”

“So to avoid this, we are encouraging all the students to take the vaccine or get a negative test result. The issue of the test is an appeal to encourage students to get vaccinated. It is an appeal and that's all,” Tweah told the Daily Observer doing a telephone interview.

However, Tweah noted that the University had earlier thought about making vaccination for returning students mandatory, but the idea was not feasible enough since the country does not have such a policy.

The UL is essentially the first among its peer institutions to express the consideration of making vaccination a condition for participating in in-person learning.

“First we wanted to say mandatory vaccination, but the Ministry of Health objected to that idea and encouraged us to use other means to get people vaccinated,” Tweah disclosed. “We want to insist that since the vaccine is not mandatory, then a negative COVID-19 result must be shown before entry.” 

However, with COVID-19 tests results backlogged and bottlenecked for several days by government mandate, regular COVID-19 tests are a tall order. When air travelers, for example, are required to take their COVID-19 tests before entry to and exit from Liberia, the question is how realistic would it be for hundreds of university students to take a weekly or bi-monthly COVID-19 test? Can the Government of Liberia afford monthly test kits for the UL student population? 

The odds are slim. 

“The Ministry of Health says that they cannot do a weekly test,” Tweah explains. “So we are appealing to students to get the vaccine, but they are not forced to take it. We have talked to the ministry to bring additional vaccine stations on the campus to allow the students to get it.”

With the UL being the first institution in the country to require its members (i.e. students) to produce a negative COVID-19 test result “at designated intervals”, students wishing to attend in-person classes would have no choice but to take the vaccine. 

“But the wearing of face masks, social distancing, and handwashing is expected to be mandatory protocols students have to follow at all times while on campus,” Tweah says.

Recently, officers of the Liberia National Police allegedly fired teargas and rubber bullets on students of the campus-based Vanguard Students Unification Party (SUP), who demanded the cancellation of the e-learning program at the state-run University, injuring more than ten people.

The injured, two of whom had bullet wounds to their heads, were among a crowd of students trying to break through barriers set by riot police to continue the second day of protest, against the administration’s defiance to revert to normal academic activities at the university.

As a result, the University authorities abruptly suspended the resumption of the upcoming semester, which has now been lifted, as preparation for classes on the August 25 kick-off.

Meanwhile, the University President, Dr. Julius Nelson, has noted that the fact that Liberia is not yet fully out of its third wave of the COVID-19 outbreak, and with health protocols still in place, participation in the ‘traditional learning’ aspect of this blended learning semester is conditional.

The conditions noted by Dr. Nelson include that students signing up for in-person classes “are highly encouraged to take the COVID-19 vaccine or must present, at a specified interval, negative rapid COVID-19 test results; and that the number of students allowed in a section will be determined by the size of the room assigned.”

 “Those who want to attend face-to-face will be allowed and those who want to study online will have the opportunity, and that all faculty members, instructors, and students will be asked to take COVID-19 vaccines at the University of Liberia voluntarily,” Dr. Nelson said.

Dr. Nelson also used the occasion to condemn recent violence perpetrated by some of the students and assure the public that after the ongoing investigation, those found culpable will bear the full weight of the rules and regulations of the Revised Student Handbook of the University of Liberia. 

“The right to protest can be exercised without resorting to violence or compromising public peace and safety. Violence has never resolved any problem in the history of our country,” Dr. Nelson said. “This is why we continuously teach men and women of the University of Liberia to choose dialogue over violence as a path to resolution of grievances while respecting their rights to peaceful assembly and protest as well as the rights of others.”