On Sept. 2, people gathered in front of Elliott Tower to protest the university’s vaccine mandate. Students, parents of students, and even individuals with no affiliation to the university participated.
The protest was organized by OU’s chapter of Turning Point USA (TPUSA), a conservative nonprofit that claims “to identify, educate, train, and organize students to promote the principles of freedom, free markets, and limited government.” One of the organization’s co-founders, Bill Montgomery, died of complications related to COVID-19 in July of 2020.
Some of the signs at the protest read “MY BODY, MY CHOICE,” “1 year of data ≠ safe,” “educate, don’t mandate” and “GRIZZLIES FOR MEDICAL FREEDOM.” Some protesters were also carrying a sign with a link to a right-wing website riddled with misinformation as well as the phrase “Stop N.W.O,” which is often associated with government-related conspiracy theories.
While addressing the crowd, president of OU’s TPUSA chapter Taylor Weinert said, “We want the choice and we want our right to medical freedom. Is this too much to ask?” Weinert also underscored the protest was intended to be anti-vaccine mandate, not anti-vaccine.
After her opening remarks, I asked to interview her. Here’s part of our conversation:
GA: Are you vaccinated against COVID-19?
TW: I am, yes.
GA: So what about the mandate don’t you like?
TW: I just feel that as a United States citizen you should not be mandated to receive the vaccine especially for me, with it being so new, I don’t like how the school and everywhere else around the nation is [saying], “You need to get it.” I think that that’s a freedom choice you should be able to decide for yourself.
GA: Could you see any scenario where the university has the right to mandate something in order to keep the university safe?
TW: That’s a tough question. I think in this circumstance, it’s more of a… I think it’s more of a measure for money at this point, especially with the COVID-19 vaccine. COVID-19, it’s not deadly…there are circumstances where people do die unfortunately but for this circumstance, I don’t believe it should be mandated at all.
GA: Does it concern you at all that unvaccinated people who contract COVID-19 and experience severe illness put hospital workers and healthcare providers at higher risk for having breakthrough infections or passing COVID-19 on to others?
TW: Yes, of course I care about the healthcare workers. I worked in healthcare myself. I got to see frontline exactly what was happening so I do have a lot of empathy and sympathy for those people, but… especially with this new Delta variant I guess I could say, the people who received the vaccine are more likely to get sick, so… it’s tough. There’s going to be continuous variants.
GA: Where do you get your information regarding COVID-19 and vaccines?
TW: The CDC, all the government resources.
Joey Colby, a senior in the Women and Gender Studies Program, was the sole dissenting protester, carrying a sign that said, “ANTI VAX= FREE DUMB.” He chose to get vaccinated and shared why he is in favor of the vaccine mandate.
“I trust the science, and I know the school will give medical and religious exemptions to the students that don’t want to get the vaccine and I believe in their right to stand here and protest and do all of that, but if they do not get the vaccine or they do not have a legitimate reason, them being on campus is a risk to me,” Colby said.
“I live with nine people. I take care of my elderly in-laws. I have a five-month-old nephew that can’t get vaccinated and my in-laws are over [the age of] 75. So if I get COVID-19, … I’m also missing organs. I have no spleen, appendix, gallbladder…I’m missing a foot of my intestine and my liver has severe cirrhosis. If I get COVID-19, I will probably die. So that’s why I’m out here holding this sign up so that people know that if you’re anti-vaccine, you’re dumb.”
Many other protesters against the mandate decision were also interviewed. Those who chose not to get vaccinated cited religious reasons, medical freedom, and their interpretation of clinical data as contributing factors in their decision. The link to their interviews can be found here:
For more information regarding COVID-19 and vaccinations please visit https://www.michigan.gov/coronavirus/.
It is important to point out that while we are all experiencing a global pandemic, we are also experiencing what some are calling an infodemic surrounding information, or disinformation, about COVID-19 — making it harder to trust science and public health responses. People have every right to protest the actions of a public university and to receive medical and religious vaccination exemptions, however, The Post will never legitimize false information. I asked, and the protesters answered — it doesn’t mean their comments regarding the science of COVID-19 are verifiably true.
As someone studying biomedical Sciences and journalism with the goal of becoming a physician with a commitment to being truthful and evidence-based in my decision making, I would direct anyone seeking information regarding COVID-19, the COVID-19 vaccines, COVID-19 treatments, or how a disease actually spreads and is prevented to the NIH, FDA, CDC, WHO, your local public health department or any other well-regarded organization that uses peer-reviewed, double-blind studies to gain information for the benefit of mankind.