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Cornell University students who identify as “a person of color” can seek an exemption to the school’s flu vaccination mandate for on-campus residents because of “historical injustices and current events.”
The Ivy League university in Ithaca, New York, required all students attending its campus this year to receive the flu vaccine, according to its COVID-19 Behavioral Compact. The school allows wiggle room, however, for “students who identify as Black, Indigenous, or as a Person of Color (BIPOC) [and] may have personal concerns about fulfilling the Compact requirements based on historical injustices and current events,” as first reported by Campus Reform.
A health FAQ explaining the availability of non-medical and non-religious exemptions instructs students to send a secure message through the student health portal “explaining why you believe you should receive an exemption.” The FAQ also links to a Cornell Health page dedicated “especially for students of color,” which states in part:
We recognize that, due to longstanding systemic racism and health inequities in this country, individuals from some marginalized communities may have concerns about needing to agree to such requirements. For example, historically, the bodies the of Black, Indigenous, and other People of Color (BIPOC) have been mistreated, and used by people in power, sometimes for profit or medical gain. It is understandable that the current Compact requirements may feel suspect or even exploitative to some BIPOC members of the Cornell community.
Additionally, recent acts of violence against Black people by law enforcement may contribute to feelings of distrust or powerlessness. We know this history and validate the potential concerns it may raise. At the same time, we know that long-standing social inequalities and health disparities have resulted in COVID-19 disproportionately affecting BIPOC individuals. Higher percentages of individuals from these communities become infected with COVID, and the health outcomes related to infection are often more serious. Away from campus community, BIPOC individuals are not as likely to have access to preventive services or quality health care. The systems, services, and policies being implemented at Cornell seek to address these inequalities as well as the differential impacts.
Conceding that “the aforementioned inequities and injustices may lead some individuals to have reservations about testing and immunization,” the page nevertheless stressed that “it is also important to acknowledge the critical role these measures play in protecting community health and well-being. In fact, they are likely to be especially helpful for BIPOC communities.”
During a recent interview in which he expressed willingness to take a COVID-19 vaccine, former President Barack Obama touched on the historical reasons why some black people might be reluctant to do so. As The Daily Wire reported:
Regarding why some in the black community might be reticent to take a COVID-19 vaccine, Obama pinpointed the Tuskegee Syphilis Study as a possible reason. The infamous experiment, conducted from 1932 to 1972 by the United States Public Health Service and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, deceived black men infected with syphilis into thinking they were being treated; in reality, they were simply being used as case studies on the long-term effects of untreated syphilis.
“And I understand, you know, historically, everything dating back all the way to the Tuskegee experiments and so forth, why the African American community would have some skepticism,” Obama said. “But the fact of the matter is, is that vaccines are why we don’t have polio anymore, and they’re the reason why we don’t have a whole bunch of kids dying from measles and smallpox and diseases that used to decimate entire populations and communities.”