Welcome back to the Velvet Ditch, Rebs. For those of us who have attended the Flagship long enough to remember a pre-COVID-19 campus, this fall is the closest to a “normal” semester we’ve experienced in what feels like forever. Classes are in-person, the bars are fully open and football is back. Can I get a Hell Yeah Damn Right? As we look across our state and country, however, the question on everyone’s minds is: How long will this normalcy last?
Mississippi’s hospitals are on the verge of collapse. Health officials have constructed makeshift Intensive Care Unit beds to supplement the hundreds currently occupied by COVID-19 patients. People across the country are looking at Mississippi as the worst-case scenario, a state on the brink. This was preventable. This is preventable. We need our student body to get vaccinated.
The Delta variant is undeniably ravaging Mississippi because of our low vaccination rate. While 50% of all US adults are fully vaccinated against the coronavirus, only 35% of Mississippians have received both shots. This leaves a huge swath of our state vulnerable to more serious and sometimes life-threatening cases of COVID-19. With the vaccine so widely available, many believe that those who refuse to get the shot are facing the consequences of their own inaction. I’d even be inclined to agree, except that this exercise of “personal liberty” is causing great collective harm. When 89% of Mississippi ICU beds are occupied by unvaccinated people, it makes it much more difficult for others to receive emergency medical care. Mississippians in urgent need of medical attention are facing prolonged waits and inadequate care due to the imminent collapse of the statewide hospital system. Alarmingly, more than 60% of recent COVID-19 cases in the state are among college-aged people. More than a mask mandate or scaled back social events, the best way we can end this pandemic once and for all is by achieving near-universal vaccination status.
Moreover, it is our responsibility as a university community to not contribute to the inundation of our hospitals. Over the course of the pandemic, healthcare workers have endured backbreaking hours and faced total exhaustion in the name of combatting this deadly virus. We owe it to them to do everything we can on a University-wide level to prevent hospitalizations. We also owe it to those with chronic medical conditions and compromised immune systems to not endanger their wellbeing or access to emergency care by our refusal to get vaccinated.
But hey, maybe my call to collective action and responsibility just doesn’t do it for you. Calling on college students to make sacrifices hasn’t exactly worked for the past 18 months. So if you glossed over my facts and figures of the sick and dying, at least listen to the selfish case for getting the shot. The university has already –rightfully– instituted a mask mandate for all indoor locations. While I’m happy to make this small concession for the sake of my classmates, I truly don’t want to give up anything else. If cases continue to rise and hospitals continue to collapse, what other precautionary measures will we be forced to endure? Do you want to wear a mask to the Grove? Are you prepared for another semester of cancellations, social distancing and unmet expectations? I’m not. I selfishly want to get back to all of the things that make Oxford the best college town in America. However, we as a student body shouldn’t get to partake in the group social activities we’ve all been missing without doing our part.
I am done trying to kill this virus with kindness and being understanding of other people’s choices. I am ready to kill it with the proven science and expertise that went into creating the COVID-19 vaccine. If a student truly does not want to get the vaccine, they can stay home and take classes online while the rest of us party – responsibly – in the Grove. Personally, I’d let them shoot me up with pretty much anything as long as it meant I could hear “No Hands” by Wacka Flocka over frat house speakers again. If you care about your fellow Mississippians, get vaccinated. If you couldn’t care less about the well-being of others but want a real college experience, get vaccinated and tell your classmates to do the same.
Katherine Broten is a junior majoring in public policy leadership and economics from Farmington, NM.