Georgia community leaders overwhelmingly believe colleges and universities should have the right to require students to be vaccinated for COVID-19 before the new school year starts next fall.
In the latest Power Poll, 71% of the business, political, and community leaders who were surveyed said they consider mandatory student vaccinations “an appropriate balance of private and public interests and rights” and necessary for the return to in-person instruction.
Power Poll is part of a nationwide survey of community leaders on important issues in the news. It does not have the precision of a scientific poll but is meant to provide insight into the thinking of leaders in metro Atlanta, Athens, Augusta, Columbus, Macon, and Savannah.
The poll on vaccinations was taken May 17-20. The three-question survey was sent by email to 744 community leaders and drew responses from 155 or nearly 21%.
Nationally, college and university leaders have been divided on the issue of mandatory vaccinations for students, with more private colleges – including Emory and Atlanta’s historically black institutions – saying they will require inoculations, unless special permission is granted.
Earlier this month, Steve Wrigley, chancellor of the University System of Georgia, said students and employees at the state’s 26 public colleges and universities would be “strongly encouraged” but not required to receive the COVID-19 vaccine before the fall semester.
While the majority of Power Poll respondents favored mandatory vaccinations for college students, about 22% said they considered it a likely overreach by educators and/or government. Another nearly 7% said such an edict would be an unacceptable affront on individual rights and liberty.
Forsyth County Sheriff Ron Freeman is among those who favor encouraging but not mandating vaccinations.
“It is a personal right to decide one’s own healthcare, and public institutions have no place in mandating otherwise for access,” Freeman wrote in an email to Power Poll. “For those of us who are vaccinated, and I am, unvaccinated pose little risk to me. It is a personal choice and should be respected.”
Jeff Iannone, president and CEO of AIM Associates in Savannah said he doesn’t see this “as an issue moving forward.
“If someone is fearful of COVID, they have every opportunity to get the vaccine, and they will be protected so it shouldn’t matter what anyone else does,” he said in an email.
More than half of poll respondents (about 58%) said vaccine hesitancy is risky, even dangerous to public health and should be discouraged. About 31% said taking the vaccine is a personal decision that should be respected and not subject to any repercussions, while another 11% said the drumbeat over vaccine hesitancy is a “predictable result” of weariness over a disease that has proven less deadly than expected.
Randy Lewis, managing director and company owner of Fitzpatrick & Lewis Public Relations in Atlanta, said he believes vaccine hesitancy “is vastly overstated by reason of politics, not public policy.
“And, to the extent it does exist, I believe the greatest problem is still the perception of cattle call inoculation sites; and the consistently terrible and routinely contradictory public information issued by a CDC that has shown itself to be massively unreliable,” Lewis wrote in an email. “As a lifelong public relations communicator/consultant, I’d fire them if they were my client.”
Asked to weigh in on vaccinations for youngsters, ages 12 to 15, most respondents (68%) said they agree with this. About 12% said they have children in this age group who are or will be getting the vaccine.
Nearly 16% said the potential risks to children should be fully explored before the launch of any campaign to push these vaccinations. About 3% said their children in this age group will not be vaccinated for COVID-19.