PERRYSBURG — When the possibility of mandatory coronavirus vaccinations at the University of Toledo was introduced during a presentation on student mental health, the entire event broke down.
Attendance at the Northern Wood County Republican Club meeting on Monday was about 30.
“I think it’s being actively discussed right now,” said guest speaker Raymond Witte, Ph.D., about mandatory vaccinations. Witte is a licensed school psychologist and dean of the College of Education at the University of Toledo.
He was presenting his pandemic advice for parents and students, called “Helping Students Thrive Through this Pandemic.”
Witte had finished his presentation and was taking questions when the vaccination issue came up. His opinion was asked regarding the Rutgers University decision to require students be vaccinated against COVID-19 in order to attend in-person classes for the fall semester.
“I can’t speak for Ohio schools, in general. I had a brief conversation with the provost, because I shared that information with him. I think it has fundamentally very sound value to it,” Witte said. “I want our young people to be safe on campus.”
He had just finished telling the group that the goal is to have 90% of classes face to face at UT.
“Right now we’re about 35% face-to-face, 28% hybrid — which would be synchronous — and the remaining is your traditional online. So we’ve had all three options and we’ve had to do that, but we’re really planning on shifting back. We want to do all face-to-face, because our students are screaming for it, and they learn best with that and hopefully we’ll be in a position to do that,” Witte said.
Asked to justify mandatory vaccinations, Witte began, “One, you can ensure that they would be protected from the virus, because they are still susceptible to it.”
He was interrupted by several audience members.
“Nobody knows. That’s the answer. Nobody knows what’s good or what’s bad because we’ve never done it before,” Joy Ermie said.
“We have students who have contracted the virus and we have dealt with them on campus, so clearly a number of students obtained the virus, so if there’s a way that we can protect the students, certainly, why wouldn’t we do that?” Witte said.
Half a dozen others in the audience interrupted Witte.
Attendee Dave Desser’s voice silenced the crowd.
“Well, I have five kids. My doctor said that the risk of the vaccine is unknown and the risk of COVID for kids is nil. We have to wait and see for a year from now to see what happens. Who is the University of Toledo, or anybody, to tell a freeborn member of the community what to do?” asked Desser.
The room erupted in clapping.
Maria Ermie, president of the Northern Wood County Republican Club, allowed Wood County Commissioner Dr. Ted Bowlus the last comment.
“I’m taking your side actually,” Bowlus said, referring to Witte. “You can’t expect the vaccine to be perfect, but Pfizer and Moderna have a 92% success rate, so we still have 8% that are not successful.”
Witte was there to speak on methods to help students, parents and educators better deal with the effects of the many changes to society due to COVID-19 and the related restrictions, especially to schools.
“We all need to find mental health strategies that work for us,” Witte said.
The bulk of the presentation was built around the acronym ALGEE.
“The A is to assess, L to Listen, Give reassurance… Encourage professional help, if needed and Encourage self help. We encourage what works for you and to do those things on a consistent basis to help maintain good mental health,” Witte said.
There were six pandemic mental health categories on the tip sheet”
• Make your health a priority.
• Figure out how stress, uncertainty, disappointments and losses are affecting you.
• Find ways that work for you to manage your stress and maximize your success.
• Stay connected with your close friends, family and classmates — virtually, and, in person if possible, with careful social distancing.
• Ask for help in your academic coursework.
• Be kind to yourself.
Witte also recommended reading the book “Your Brain on Nature,” by Alan Logan.