Several colleges have vaccine mandates — but they’re not airtight 

By: - September 6, 2021 6:16 am

Michigan State University | Susan J. Demas

As college students return to campuses across Michigan and the COVID-19 Delta variant continues to rage on, several schools have implemented vaccine mandates in order to resume in-person activities. But there are concerns about how easy it is to circumvent the requirements. 

Currently, only six of Michigan’s 15 public universities have a university wide-vaccine requirement. Across the nation, over 600 universities have announced vaccination mandate. 

Michigan State University is one of them. Students are told to provide the dates of their vaccination, the manufacturer of the vaccine and the location where vaccines were given, but there is no requirement to post a photo of the vaccination card. 

Katie Bullock, an MSU junior, said that although she has not personally heard of anyone submitting false vaccine information at her university, the process makes that a possibility. 

“When filling it out, I had that second [thought] like, ‘Oh, definitely people could be [forging the vaccine information]’,” Bullock said. 

David Lowry, an MSU associate professor of plant evolutionary ecology, genetics, genomics, physiology and development, tweeted last week that he’s chosen to make his class hybrid due to students voicing concerns about large parties, noncompliance with the mask rule and falsification of vaccine information. 

Lowry declined to comment further to the Advance.

According to MSU, 95% of students, faculty and staff are either fully vaccinated or had received their first dose of the vaccine. The Advance asked MSU spokesperson Dan Olsen if there are concerns people are submitting false information.

“What we’ve seen is overwhelmingly students are supportive of the vaccination requirement as our faculty and staff have high vaccination rates [on] our campus. While certainly it is a concern, we know that the vast majority of Spartans do the right thing,” Olsen said.

University vaccine requirements have already been subjected to lawsuits with mixed results in Michigan.

U.S. District Judge Paul Maloney denied a motion filed by an MSU employee, Jeanna Norris, challenging university-wide requirements, as the Advance previously reported. She filed the motion as a result of her belief that the vaccine was unnecessary since she had COVID-19 in 2020 and presented two positive antibody tests. 

The judge said Norris would be unable to show that her choice was unrelated to “government interests” related to public health and said her role as an employee allowed her no “constitutionally protected property interest in her employment position.”

However, the same judge ruled in favor of student athletes requesting religious exemptions from Western Michigan University’s vaccine mandate for athletes, coaches and staff to be vaccinated. WMU does not have a campus-wide vaccination requirement. 

As the pandemic continues, more colleges and workplaces have begun to require proof of vaccination cards. 

At the University of Michigan, students, staff and faculty were required to upload an image of the vaccination record along with some other identification numbers, the date that you received the vaccine and from where. This process is similar at Oakland University, Kalamazoo College, Albion College, Grand Valley State University and Wayne State University. 

But that’s not a foolproof system, either.

University of Michigan | Julia Forrest

According to the Federal Trade Commission, COVID-19 vaccination cards were not created for long-term proof of an inoculation. Many GOP officials have come out against a more durable “vaccine passport,” including in Michigan, where legislation preemptively banning such a practice has passed the House.

Although forging a card is punishable by a fine and up to five years due to a replicated government seal, it can be easily copied. Despite the FBI and U.S. the Department of Health and Human Services issuing a statement insisting people not buy, create or sell forged vaccine cards in March, a black market has emerged for selling fake vaccination cards. Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel has joined several of her colleagues in warning against the illegal sales. 

In August, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), for instance, seized over 3,000 vaccination cards in Tennessee coming into the country from China. New York prosecutors last month also charged two people with selling fake cards.

Emily Martin, an associate professor of epidemiology at the University of Michigan, pointed out that there are limitations in tracking vaccination data at the federal level. 

“We’re kind of limited by the gaps in the vaccination tracking system federally, that are making it pretty hard,” Martin said. “This is a problem. … It’s a problem for mandates. It’s also just a problem for all the work that we do to monitor vaccines. And so that makes the process a lot harder than it should be. And I wish we had a better system for that.”

Another cause for concern, even with vaccine mandates in place, is breakthrough cases. 

Vaccine rates among 20 to 29 year old Michiganders have remained as the second lowest age group in terms of vaccinations, only above those aged 12 to 15. Only 38.8% of Michiganders 20 to 29 have been fully vaccinated. 

From June to July, those aged 20 to 29 made up 30.2% although they were 14% of the state’s total population. Since the start of the pandemic, those aged 20 to 29 have made up 181,210 of the state’s 1,070,963 probable and confirmed cases. 

Bullock said that although there are risks around people forging vaccine cards or breakthrough cases, vaccine mandates are still the most feasible way to ensure in-person instruction and other college related activities continue. 

“This is a rule,” Bullock said. “If it was just a recommendation, then people can fight back and say it’s just a recommendation, ‘I don’t need to do that.’ And so having a mandate, people do have to follow the rules. It’s really important that we have a vaccine mandate, just because it keeps not only us safe, but the people in our communities [safe].”


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Julia Forrest
Julia Forrest

Julia Forrest is a contributor to the Michigan Advance. She has been covering Michigan and national politics for two years at the Michigan Daily and OpenSecrets. She studies public policy at the University of Michigan.