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A spirit that is not afraid

Demonstrators protest vaccine mandate for AU employees at Toomer's Corner

<p>A protestor holds a sign quoting part of the Auburn Creed in opposition to Auburn University's announcement that all employees must be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 in accordance with a federal executive order on Oct. 26, 2021, in Auburn, Ala.</p>

A protestor holds a sign quoting part of the Auburn Creed in opposition to Auburn University's announcement that all employees must be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 in accordance with a federal executive order on Oct. 26, 2021, in Auburn, Ala.

Protesters gathered Tuesday at Toomer’s Corner in response to the University’s announcement that employees are required to be vaccinated. Protesters had signs that read "No vaccine mandates," "My body my choice" and "I used to believe in Auburn and love it."

Protestors flew American flags and Gadsden flags while cars passing by honked in support. Dean Odle, a Republican running for governor against Kay Ivey, attended the protest. 

The mandate is in accordance with President Biden’s Executive Order 14042 requiring federal contractors to provide adequate COVID-19 safeguards for their workforce, including requiring vaccinations for its employees. 

Bradley Andrew, first-year physics graduate student and a teaching assistant at Auburn, felt that the mandate violates the Constitution and infringes on his freedoms.

“I think that that is the scariest, most dangerous fact about this, that we are being forced, and we are losing freedoms, and that's why I'm here,” Andrew said. 

In addition to an infringement of their rights, protesters stated other reasons for being in attendance of the protest. 

Sean Daiber, senior in mathematics, said he is not vaccinated due to heart issues and that he should have the right to make his own medical decisions. 

“I believe that people like myself who have medical issues with vaccines and who have moral issues such as with aborted babies being used in development of vaccines should have the right to make private medical decision with regards to their health,” Daiber said. 

Fetal cell lines — lab-replicated fetal cells from decades ago — are sometimes used in the testing, production or manufacturing of vaccines, including the COVID-19, chickenpox, hepatitis A, shingles and rubella vaccines, according to a compilation of research from Reuters

Kedra Macon, a 35-year-old professional cleaner, said she believes the mandate will continue to grow into a larger issue. 

“We should have the freedom to do what we want with our bodies,” Macon said. “And once it's going to start in one spot and it's going to continue to grow if we allow them to do what they want with our bodies and with our minds and our thoughts.” 

Gary Whitney, 75-year-old retired resident of Auburn, echoed this sentiment and wants the University to stop mandating employees to receive the vaccine before it requires others to be vaccinated.

“What I'm worried about is that they're going to after that make it mandatory for the students. And if that's true, my granddaughter will be leaving the University,” Whitney said.

As a public research institution, Auburn University is considered a federal contractor and must comply with the executive order. The University is requiring that student employees who are not already vaccinated achieve full vaccination by Dec. 8. 

Students and Auburn residents hold signs to protest Auburn University's announcement that all employees are required to get the COVID-19 vaccine in accordance with President Joe Biden's executive order on Oct. 26, 2021, in Auburn, Ala.

Employees who do not comply with the University mandate may be subject to termination. 

Macon, who works for an Auburn contractor that cleans Auburn buildings, said her employer has not yet required employees to be vaccinated, but said she believes the company will follow the University’s lead. 

Macon, a single mother with four children, said she would probably quit her job if her employer required a vaccination. 

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The mandate does make exemptions for employees who are legally entitled to a medical or religious accommodation. 

Andrew said he submitted his exemption forms for both religious and medical accommodations. He said he has read studies on the vaccine causing heart problems in people under 30 years old and knows a friend who is not vaccinated because of a recent heart condition. 

Andrew said that he is fit and would be able to overcome health issues that he encountered with COVID-19 and the vaccine.

Andrew went on to say that he believes the elderly and people who are immunocompromised should get the vaccine because “the benefits outweigh the risk in that situation where they’re at risk for many different things, and COVID could be potentially dangerous to them.”

Andrew said people who are not in the categories of being elderly and immunocompromised have the ability to handle COVID-19 which he said is one of the medical reasons that he listed on the exemption form. 

“We are helping not create variants and different variants of the virus by not getting vaccinations,” Andrew said. “And then I have for religious reasons, as far as the cleanliness of the body and how that comes from the heart is from Christianity, and from what Christ said."

Similar to Andrew, Whitney said he mistrusts the testing on the vaccine and did not want to get the vaccine because of his religious beliefs.

“I don't trust the government. I trust in the Lord to take care of me,” Whitney said. “I mean, if God wants to take me, he'll take me when it's my time, so I really don't worry about it.”

As an unvaccinated teaching assistant, Andrew said the University is threatening to kick him out and is at risk of losing his spot to earn a Ph.D. in physics. He said he will go on to find a different job like teaching physics or mathematics if the mandate continues. 

Daiber said he believes many employees will quit but said he would like people to know they don’t have to quit. 

“People don’t need to quit, they can stand up against their employers," Daiber said. "They have the right. We believe in the right of employees."

On Oct. 22, Bobby Woodard, senior vice president for Student Affairs, sent an email to students informing them of two online open forums at 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 25, to address implications of the requirements and answers questions. 

Zoom links to both forums were sent Monday morning. 

Andrew attended the forum and was unhappy with a response to a question about if Auburn cares more about the people who work for the University and their livelihoods or if it cares more about the money and federal funding. 

“[Woodard's] overall opinion, and it seems like the overall opinion of Auburn, is to be yes, we care more about the funding that we get from the federal grants than about the freedoms and opinions of the culture and the people that live here and live in the South,” Andrew said. 

Daiber said he did not attend the forum and took issue with the University because he received the email too late. 

“I did not receive the email until less than 30 minutes before the Zoom email came out, and that is another example of Auburn University’s cowardice,” Daiber said. 

When asked how he would like the University to respond, Daiber said, “With courage and understanding that people want the employees protected and that Auburn University owes it to the labor that they use to build their reputation to support them in their private medical decisions.” 

Andrew said the University faces a hard decision and its response to these protests may be telling to current and future students how the University feels about its students’ opinions. 

“They're going to have to be very explicit with what they lay down, and that will tell everybody whether or not this University is more in favor of federal and central government control,” Andrew said. 

The University has listed important dates for each vaccine and dose to ensure full vaccination by the Dec. 8 deadline.

  • Moderna: First dose by Oct. 27, 2021 and second dose by Nov. 24, 2021.
  • Pfizer: First dose by Nov. 3, 2021 and second dose by Nov. 24, 2021.
  • Johnson & Johnson: Dose needed by Nov. 24, 2021.

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