As of yesterday, everyone aged 16 and older in South Carolina is eligible to be vaccinated against COVID-19. That includes all Furman students, faculty and staff. As part of its commitment to the health and safety of the campus community, Furman should provide an opportunity for all students to become fully vaccinated before the end of the semester. 

Duke and Davidson, two North Carolina institutions that, like Furman, receive funding from The Duke Endowment, have already announced and implemented plans for mass vaccination clinics that would provide their entire student populations the opportunity to receive the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Davidson students are being vaccinated today and will have full immunity in just two weeks.

We should follow these institutions’ lead. I know we are capable of it. If we can test all students on campus in less than a week, as we did in January, we can vaccinate all students on campus in less than a week. In fact, I think we can do it in a day or two. The vaccines are available, and everyone is eligible. Surely Furman has the resources and the logistical know-how to get this done, especially given our oft-touted partnership with Prisma Health.

The pandemic is not yet over, but as University of North Carolina sociologist Zeynep Tufekci noted recently, it will end no matter what. The question is whether the variants or the vaccines will win the race to herd immunity and how much suffering can be avoided as a consequence. 

Millions of Americans are getting vaccinated against COVID-19 every day, and our country is among the best in the world in terms of vaccine distribution. The numbers of new cases, hospitalizations and deaths have declined over the last two months. But the good news has not been uniform. Some areas of the country, including the state of Michigan, have experienced significant jumps in cases and hospitalizations disproportionately affecting young, unvaccinated people.

Now that many of the most vulnerable have at least some degree of immunity through vaccination, a rise in new cases alone should not necessarily be alarming. Because new cases are now concentrated in a younger, healthier population, higher prevalence of COVID-19 is not quite as threatening as it would have been even six weeks ago. But the uptick in Michigan has extended not only to cases but also to hospitalizations and deaths. This shift has been driven by B.1.1.7, otherwise known as the U.K. variant, which is more transmissible and potentially more virulent when compared with the variant that was most common last year.

In early February, President Davis told The Paladin that “it is still too early to have these … conversations” about what Furman’s vaccine protocols will be in the fall. It is no longer too early. In light of the race between vaccines and variants, Furman should not only lay the groundwork for the fall but also proactively create opportunities for students to be fully vaccinated before the summer. Vaccinating as many students as possible before the end of the semester would be incredibly beneficial not only on campus, but also in Greenville and in communities across the country as students travel home and elsewhere over the summer. It would also make these last five weeks of school more enjoyable, with as few students in quarantine as possible, and it would set the stage for our triumphant return to a normal, maskless Furman in the fall, vaccinated and free from the strictures of the Paladin Promise. The best time for Furman to vaccinate the student body was yesterday. The second-best time is today.