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Vaccine requirement needed for Montana campuses

| October 3, 2021 1:00 AM

The Montana University Faculty Association Representatives (MUSFAR), which represents the faculty of the Montana University System, urges the Board of Regents to institute a vaccination requirement to help end the Covid-19 pandemic.

Numerous vaccines are already required for the Montana University System and the Montana Annotated Code Title 20, Chapter 5, Part 4 states that postsecondary schools “may impose immunization requirements as a condition of attendance that are more stringent than those required by this part.”

Further, the constitutional authority and moral responsibility to implement a vaccine requirement for the campuses in the Montana University System lies with the MUS Board of Regents. The Regents “have full power, responsibility, and authority to supervise, coordinate, manage and control the Montana university system” according to Section 9 of the Montana Constitution.

To date, the Board of Regents has not publicly discussed their position or justification for not requiring vaccines to protect the entire campus community. The Board of Regents is charged with the health, safety, and wellbeing of the Montana University System. Why is the Board of Regents failing to act? Why are they not requiring vaccinations, which we know is the best-known solution to end the pandemic?

Communities across the state are in crisis and our campuses are at risk. Every county in the state with a MUS campus is at a “high level of community transmission for COVID-19” as defined by the CDC. Our hospitals are at capacity, considering “crisis of care standards,” and the National Guard has been deployed to help support our healthcare system. Montanans are dying each week because we are well under the vaccination percentage required to limit and end the spread of the disease. We implore the Montana State University Board of Regents to require vaccinations for students and staff across the Montana University System to prevent the spread of the Covid virus in our campus communities.

We are gravely concerned about the health and safety of our students, faculty, and staff. We are watching Covid cases rise, following reports on the rising deaths in our communities, and continue to stress the necessity for evidence-based mitigation strategies, at the system-wide level. Vaccinations are the most effective means to end the pandemic.

With the full FDA approval of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid vaccine on Aug. 23, over 1,000 public institutions across the country have instituted vaccine requirements for all members of their campus communities. We now have the best tool available to end this pandemic in an effective and safe vaccine.

Colleges across the nation, and in Montana, already require students to be vaccinated against viral diseases like mumps, measles, and rubella. These measurements are required for public health and the wellbeing of students and the campus. The Covid vaccines are FDA approved, safe and effective, and they should be required in the Montana University System.

There are no logistical barriers to providing vaccines. Indeed, it has never been easier to provide access to vaccinations as the infrastructure to administer vaccines in Montana is already up and running. Healthcare provides across our communities already provide vaccination clinics, many of them on college campuses. There is no shortage of vaccinations, they are easy to get, and free for everyone. We urge the Board of Regents to utilize the systems in place and require vaccinations for everyone in the Montana University System.

Without a vaccination requirement we are putting our students lives at risk, we are failing to provide them with access to a safe education; we are contributing to the crisis in our communities; and we are damaging the long-term health, safety, and economic stability of our state.

We want to work collectively towards ending this global pandemic and ensuring the health, safety, and well-being of our communities throughout Montana. We implore the Board of Regents to expand vaccination requirements to include the FDA approved COVID-19 vaccine.

Bradford Watson, MSU, Chair Faculty Senate, Chair MUSFAR; Dr. Jennifer Lynn, MSUB, Chair Academic Senate, Vice Chair MUSFAR; Dr. Kimber McKay, UM, Chair Faculty Senate; Dr. Jenn Bell, University of Montana, Chair-elect Faculty Senate; Dr. Michael Brody, MSU, Chair-elect Faculty Senate; Dr. Joy C. Honea, MSUB, President, Faculty Association; Jana Parsons, Great Falls College, Chair, Faculty Senate; Steve Lewis, Helena College, President Faculty Senate.