Vaccination for Lectures?

The full guidelines on the return to on-campus teaching in September that I referred to on Monday have now been distributed to all staff, not without comment.

Basically the new advice is that in-person teaching will return in September (in fact a month from today in Maynooth) for all forms of class except lectures containing over 250 people, which will be online. Lecture halls and labs will be at full capacity, i.e. with no social distancing requirement. Students will be “asked” to wear face coverings, but we are told not to attempt to enforce this. Importantly, there will be no requirement for students to have been vaccinated in order to attend lectures.

In Ireland there is a vaccination passport system so that those who wish to dine indoors at a bar or restaurant have to show vaccination status. Perhaps someone can explain to me how it makes sense for this to be a requirement in a restaurant while it is not a requirement for a student having to sit for an hour in close proximity to up to 249 others with no social distancing and no mandatory face coverings.

This conundrum is taken to another level of absurdity when you consider that a student wishing to get lunch indoors on campus will presumably have to show their vaccine passport?

There is an article here that argues that a safe return in the presence of the delta-variant requires 90% of the student population to have been vaccinated.

A more acceptable plan would have students show their vaccination status when enrolling on the course. Those who are unvaccinated but willing to have a vaccination shot could be vaccinated there and then and be allowed to attend lectures when the vaccine takes effect. Or I should say “could have been” because the facilities required to do on-campus vaccinations have not been set up and now there probably isn’t time. Those that refuse to have a vaccine should attend lectures online on a permanent basis.

(How such a scheme would be policed is a difficult question: we don’t usually have people on the doors of lecture theatres checking student IDs or anything and there is a far greater rate of traffic at the start of a lecture than you would have at a restaurant…)

There will of course be some students who are at very high risk and should not be attending lectures anyway even if vaccinated. For them we should be providing lecture recordings. Unfortunately I don’t think we have good enough facilities to record live lectures from theatres as there has been inadequate investment in cameras etc. If we’re told we have to provide lecture recordings, for many of us that means doing the lectures twice. And so our workload increases.

On the other hand it seems increasingly likely to me that all this will be irrelevant. New case numbers are running at about 1800 per day, a level that the HSE admits to being “unsustainable”. When the first colleges return in September, a substantial surge can be expected and everything will be back online anyway.

It’s like déjà vu all over again…

14 Responses to “Vaccination for Lectures?”

  1. Anton Garrett Says:

    I take the view that as soon as everybody who wants to be vaccinated has been then society should return to normal as an utmost priority. Vaccination should be a matter of personal conscience (and yes, I have been).

    • John Peacock Says:

      But vaccination doesn’t make you immune – it reduces the chance of infection and the severity of symptoms, but not to zero in either case. People who refuse to get vaccinated (without good medical reason) are making it more likely that they will give the infection to people in the vaccinated pool – some of whom will die. The risk of this happening is increases with age: a 60-year-old vaccinated Professor has the same risk as a 40-year-old unvaccinated person. For this reason, many of my colleagues are understandably extremely unhappy at the thought of returning to in person teaching of potentially unvaccinated students. I think we should be insisting on vaccination for all undergraduates who want such teaching (with online as the alternative). And more broadly, vaccination is a civic duty, and to decline it without good reason should be viewed in the same light as exercising your freedom to fire a gun in a crowded square.

      • Anton Garrett Says:

        Freedom of conscience is a higher good. These vaccines do not carry zero risk, which your reasoning presumes; because they are a novel technology, they carry unknown risk. (Africans have said, “Now it’s your turn.”) I chose to take that risk, but I do not condemn those who do not, and I don’t think anybody else should, either.

    • People are free to not get vaccinated. I think it is also very reasonable to restrict what such people can do, for the greater good of others.

  2. Anton Garrett Says:

    How about forgetting vaccination but demanding masks to dine at a restaurant?

  3. John Peacock Says:

    Anton: you can’t be serious. Of order a billion vaccine doses have been delivered, so the (non-zero) risks have been quantified and are extremely small. It’s insane that you have countries like Australia where these tiny risks were allowed to dominate the public debate to the point where people refused to be vaccinated. One might understand this for the majority, who are unused to making quantitative risk assessments, but a scientist shouldn’t be making such arguments. Now, agreed, no-one can prove 100% that all recipients of Covid vaccines won’t suddenly drop dead in 20 years – but where is there any shred of evidence that this is a realistic risk? I repeat, given the absence of such evidence, it is everyone’s duty to be vaccinated. Freedom of conscience is in no way a higher good than the duty to act in such a way as to restrict the harm you cause to your fellow humans. Now, we don’t always adhere to this commandment (e.g. I flew a lot up to 2019, even though I knew deep down that it was wrong) – but at least one can be honest and own up to seflish behaviour, rather than cloaking it in spurious claims of principle.

    • Anton Garrett Says:

      John, I will not be lectured what my duty is (ie, what you consider my duty to be), or what I ‘should’ be writing based on what you consider to be your superior risk assessment; and I disagree that freedom of conscience is a spurious factor in the debate. In another post I’ll state some specific concerns over the unknown longer term effects of the virus, and I hope we can then have a constructive debate without further comments of that sort.

      Please remember that I am doubly jabbed and happy to be so.

      • Anton Garrett Says:

        Oops, the longer term effects of the vaccine, not the virus!

      • Anton Garrett Says:

        The vaccines are not risk-free and I suspect that they would not be licensed for human use if there were not an emergency; I think that governments – the only people who know – are not publishing the stats for vaccine-induced major health problems, blood clots above all. Now, there *is* an emergency, so I am not an antivaxxer, but I think we are not being permitted *informed* choice. I know a highly qualified nurse who speaks of large numbers of people in hospital with blood clots following vaccination. Also, it has turned out to be untrue that base sequences from the RNA or DNA in the vaccines cannot get into the DNA of cells inside our bodies – cells which then reproduce in the usual way (i.e., splitting, or mitosis). According to an open letter of July 29th to Charlie Hebdo magazine by the French academic biochemist Jean-Paul Bourdineaud, the vaccine manufacturers say that this is impossible because there is no reverse transcriptase in the vaccine, but it can happen by a different route involving biochemical compounds called retrotransposons (Zhang L, Richards A, Barrasa MI, Hughes SH, Young RA, Jaenisch R. 2021. Reverse-transcribed SARS-CoV-2 RNA can integrate into the genome of cultured human cells and can be expressed in patient-derived tissues. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA, 118(21):e2105968118. doi: 10.1073/pnas.2105968118). I presume Bourdineaud’s letter is in the public domain in French but I don’t know about English; I was sent a translation made by a bilingual friend. Then there is the risk of antibody-dependent enhancement (look it up on Wikipedia), which means that tghe vaccinated might have worse reactions to subsequent mutations than the unvaccinated and which again I believe the vaccine makers have been too complacent about. Also mutations occurring inside vaccinated persons that favour more virulent forms, as happened with Marek’s disease in chickens, which started off postwar as a cough but is now 100% lethal so that all chickens have to be vacccinated to survive. The fact is that these covid vaccines involve a new technology, and vaccinated persons are part of a giant realtime experiment. I believe that everybody in covid vaccination research has done the best they can; do not categorise me with conspiracy theorists. Whether that best is OK, only time will reveal.

      • Please consider what you write. There is a choice of vaccines: if you don’t like one because of rare blood cloths, there are alternatives. All corona mutations have come from unvaccinated people. I am not aware of any that have come from vaccinations. The recent papers on ADE explicitly mention that no such effect has been seen in covid-19, and in fact the vaccines are very good at keeping people out of hospital. Around 1% of unvaccinated people getting covid died of it. Do you really want to discourage people from taking the vaccine because of some hypothetical risk? In the US, vaccination rates are suddenly going up, in regions where covid is now spreading because of previous vaccine hesitancy. People are voting with their feet

      • Anton Garrett Says:

        I consider very carefully what I write on this subject. I don’t think much more can usefully be said until the debate goes quantitative.

  4. With any luck the vast majority of students will be sensible enough to be vaccinated. Masks may be more of an issue, judging from the pictures of UK parliament this week where rather a lot of MPs (and minsters) did not wear one.

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