The new student group, Vaccinate UNC Now, held a rally at the steps of South Building on Friday to advocate for a vaccine mandate on campus. UNC says 92 percent of students have attested to being vaccinated for COVID-19, but some believe that still isn’t enough.

With signs reading “Even Duke Mandates” and “Vax to the Max” students marched toward South building to demand a COVID-19 vaccine mandate.

Students march toward South Building with signs calling for a campus vaccine mandate.  (Photo by VAX UNC/Lauren Haines)

UNC Sophomore Luke Diasio is the organizer of the rally. He said he believes it is past time to institute the mandate.

“Last year, COVID-19 sent us all home early. We spent the past year alone, staring at our screens, pretending we were learning,” Diasio said to the crowd. “Now, we are finally back on campus. But for us to stay safely, we need a vaccine mandate. We don’t need it in a week, we don’t need it in a month, we need it now.”

Diasio and other organizers from Vaccinate UNC Now created a petition calling for a statewide vaccine mandate for students, faculty and staff. UNC has said a vaccine mandate would have to be system wide and come from recommendations by the North Carolina Commission for Public Health, rather than at the university level.

Diasio cited other public universities that have already instituted vaccine mandates such as Indiana, Michigan and Maryland. He said he believes the UNC System is just afraid of the controversy that a mandate would cause.

“I think UNC is worried about a possible political backlash from this,” Diasio said. “The purpose of our protest is to show there is real support for a vaccine mandate and that students want it. Our goal is to stay on campus and stay here safely.”

In an update on Thursday, UNC said most of the campus had attested to being vaccinated. The university reports 92 percent of students, 96 percent of faculty and 84 percent of staff have attested. The update also said the university has not received any reports from Campus Health of student hospitalizations due to COVID-19 this semester.

The university neither requires students to submit a COVID-19 vaccination card, nor does it require students to report hospitalizations to Campus Health.

UNC sophomore Alexander Denza, who was also at the vaccine rally, said there may be some discrepancies between what’s reported and the actual safety in the classroom.

“If those statistics were, of course, accurate, that would still be almost one in 10 people,” Denza said. “I’m in a lecture hall of over 200 people. So, there’s a significant amount of people in there who would not be vaccinated.”

Students who are unvaccinated or do not share their vaccination status must get tested twice weekly through the Carolina Together Testing Program. Vaccinated students are not required to be tested.

The Carolina Together Testing Program is currently open Monday through Friday but students who want to get tested on the weekends need to visit Campus Health on Saturday. Campus Health announced this week they will be closed on Sundays.

Denza said he is concerned students are entering false information to avoid testing requirements.

“We think that is unacceptable because people could be incentivized to put in the wrong information so that way they don’t have to go through weekly testing,” Denza said.

UNC has previously said it is conducting weekly audits of vaccine attestations and those who have falsified documents are subject to disciplinary action. The university’s access to the state vaccination database, however, is limited, according to university officials.

Diasio said there needs to be a better verification process in place such as checking attestation records with the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services COVID-19 Vaccine Management System (CVMS).

“There is a state database of everyone who has received the vaccine,” Diasio said. “It is much more secure than COVID vaccination cards. So, there are real mechanisms to actually check whether students have received the vaccine, and if UNC wants to be serious about enforcing it, they need to start implementing those now.”

Diasio and other protestors brought their petition to the Chancellor’s door Friday. If organizers do not receive a response from UNC administration within the next week, their next rally will be on September 24.


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