October 29, 2021 | NEWS | By Victoria Calton

The sun has finally set on what felt like an endless cycle of lockdowns and safer-at-home orders from state governors, but the fight against COVID-19 has not ceased on the political stage. 

In a similar way that masking, or the lack thereof, may cause one to assume political affiliation, privately and publicly-enforced vaccination verification has allowed virtue signaling to dominate workforce requirements, creating conflict between one’s self-autonomy over medical treatments and one’s ability to be employable based on vaccination status.

The creation of vaccination requirements to maintain or receive a job offer, as well as the use of vaccine passports domestically, have already caused job losses across the U.S. and within the state of Colorado. According to the Denver Post, on Oct. 4, 2021, 119 UCHealth employees were fired because they refused to comply with vaccine mandates. 

Not only are unvaccinated people eligible for termination, but they also run the risk of not receiving unemployment benefits from the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment’s Unemployment Insurance Division (UI).

“Generally speaking, UI benefits are meant for Coloradans who lose work through no fault of their own,” said Division Press Secretary Jessica Hudgins Smith in an email received by News5. “If being vaccinated against COVID-19 is pertinent for the performance of the job, the employee will likely NOT be eligible for UI benefits.”  

The line has yet to be drawn between the extent of government regulation of public health and an individual’s choice to comply with COVID-19 vaccines or abstain entirely. 

At Colorado College and many colleges in Colorado, it is mandatory to supply one’s vaccination status to be granted access to campus and residential life for the 2021-2022 academic year. CC has taken vaccine verification a step further with a new public event policy. 

An email from the COVID-19 Policy & Implementation Committee states that whenever visitors are welcomed to campus hosted events, they are required to provide their vaccine card or a negative test result 72 hours before an event with a valid photo ID. 

During this year’s Family Weekend and Homecoming event, Career Center Office Manager Natalie Cepeda assisted with COVID-19 testing and verification of all event attendees. 

Making sure all visitors attending the event are either vaccinated or tested negative for COVID-19 was “to keep the campus open and protect the faculty and students,” Cepeda said. Anyone who could not provide verification or a test result was welcome to perform a rapid test at a nearby pharmacy or store clinic. 

Cepeda finds the vaccine verification process beneficial to maintain the privilege of in-person learning and keeping members of the community safe and healthy.

“Those who get [COVID-19] and get it bad… it changes their lives forever,” Cepeda said. Instead of running the risk of contracting the virus and spreading it on campus, Cepeda supports the vaccine verification requirement for all parties seeking to attend campus organized events. 

Although the college would prefer to have an open campus to visitors, Maggie Santos, COVID-19 Response Coordinator, fears the threat of transmissibility when hosting big events like Family Weekend and Homecoming. 

“[We] test students more than the general public,” Santos said. With the virus’s evolving variants, large scale events such as hockey games at Robson Arena can present the issues of transmissibility.

Avery Carrington ’24 sees both the positives and negatives of vaccine verification.

“The vaccine could be seen as a double-sided protection for those who receive it and those who are in constant contact with a vaccinated individual,” Carrington said.  However, Carrington acknowledges that vaccine verification could pose a threat to medical privacy. 

Carrington is one of the 96.7 percent of students who are vaccinated and living on campus this year. Having the extra protection of the vaccine lessens the fear concerning COVID-19’s fast and widespread transmissibility. Although transmissibility is a concern for vaccinated students (and cases have been documented), CDC records show contracting COVID-19 while vaccinated and unvaccinated is a greater risk for those [1] 65 or older. The vaccine itself has not been shown to exacerbate or cause disease, yet breakthrough cases for elderly citizens may be more severe.

Out of more than 183 million people vaccinated in the United States, people 65 or older experiencing breakthrough vaccine infections accounted for 69 percent of nonfatal hospitalizations and 86 percent of deaths

But vaccines are still highly effective at preventing death and severe illness overall. Carrington noted that breakthrough cases in young adults rarely result in death.

Santos sees no need for students, staff or faculty to carry around their vaccine card unless required for off campus activities. According to CC’s new Public Events Policy, students and faculty were not required to present either a vaccine card or negative test result if they are compliant with COVID-19 policy of reporting one’s vaccination status prior to the start of Block 1. Since vaccine status is used as a contact tracing method, CC sees no need to card students.

On Oct. 3, 2021, Gov. Jared Polis’ executive order authorized a faster disciplinary process for those who are uncompliant in receiving a COVID-19 vaccine. According to the Denver Post, state employees that are not compliant with the one dose vaccination requirement will no longer receive a seven day advanced disciplinary notice for a “pre-disciplinary meeting” before an employee’s termination. State employees will now have 10 days to respond to a potential disciplinary action notice before their employment can be terminated.

Some Coloradans also fear the COVID-19 data collection on students in grades K-12 by Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CPDHE). Some parents find this data collection beneficial to ensuring the safety of students from COVID-19 outbreaks, while others fear not knowing the details behind the state’s data collection efforts. 

Along with the name of a student’s school, the CDPHE collects other “sufficient information” on students to add to the CDPHE immunization and disease control databases to aid contact tracing and mitigation efforts.

Polis has not responded to questions of what “sufficient information” is being collected on students, but assures risk mitigation efforts are guided by the information collected on students.

Since the pandemic rocked everybody’s lives in 2020, the needs of many to feel safe from COVID-19 have dominated public opinion. The underlying question remains whether three months, six months, nine months, or even 12 months of continued masking and booster shot campaigns will slow the spread and lower hospitalization levels, and get us to the long-awaited herd immunity.

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