Opinion: Notre Dame at the Forefront of Vax Passport Initiative. No Enrollment Without Vaccine Status

Rev. John Jenkins, President, University of Notre Dame

Story written by: Frieda M. Rings

NOTRE DAME, Ind. —

Perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising that the University of Notre Dame issued a vaccine mandate to its students Wednesday. After all, the trial balloon they floated just two days earlier seemed to go over ok. 

On Bright Monday, after wishing students the blessing and joys of Easter, President of Notre Dame Rev. John Jenkins proceeded to use coercive techniques to incentivize his student body to vaccinate against Covid-19. 


“Having consulted with health officials, I am pleased to announce that once a sufficient proportion of our student body is vaccinated we can consider relaxing some of our health protocols that have been in place this semester,” Jenkins wrote in a letter to the student body.  A few sentences later, in bold, he adds, “More specifically, if 90 percent of our students have had at least the first vaccination dose, we plan to take steps such as the following: 

  • Allow inter-hall visits in our resident hall common lounges
  • Raise the maximum number at informal gatherings outdoors from 10 to 25 
  • Eliminate the requirement to wear masks outdoors on campus for gatherings of 25 or less
  • Restore some outdoor recreational opportunities, such as basketball and volleyball”

And, the freedoms increase after the second shot! Also in bold: “If 90 percent of our student population becomes fully vaccinated after a second shot, we plan to take further steps, such as the following:

  • Dispensing with weekly surveillance testing for those who have been fully vaccinated
  • Not requiring those fully vaccinated to go through exit testing before leaving at the end of the semester
  • Providing more outdoor activities for our graduates as we move toward Senior Week and Commencement weekend”

University students are not in a Covid risk group. In St. Joseph County, Indiana, where Notre Dame is located, no one under age 30 has died. Still, the university has tested to the extreme; in one week in March, they conducted 15,000 surveillance tests. (The university has about 12,700 students.) And, students who violate health protocols are punished. According to a February article in the South Bend Tribune, the university had “taken action against 100 students so far this year for both behavior both on and off campus.” These punishments ranged from suspensions to warnings. When Notre Dame students held a big party at an off-campus bar that was busted by the local health department, a university spokesman originally said they would not try to identify students who attended, according to another South Bend Tribune article. He later changed his tune: “in retrospect, I should have been clearer about the fact that Notre Dame will, in fact, try to identify students” who attended. Last summer, when students were found breaking quarantine rules, troopers in police cars from the Indiana State Police Alliance monitored students from 5:30 to 3:30 a.m.

These lockdown measures and restrictions are severe, and students are not in danger of serious complications from the corona virus. In fact, these kids may be at more risk from a vaccine. As Alex Berenson writes in his book, Underreported Truths About Covid-19 and Lockdowns: Part 4: Vaccines, “The biggest problem with the Covid vaccines is how little evidence we have that their overall benefits outweigh their overall risks. The question turns out to be much more complicated than whether the vaccines cut the number of Covid infections. That’s especially true for people under 50, who face a low risk of serious illness or death from Covid but often suffer severe short-term side effects after being vaccinated.” 

The newspaper reported the vaccinations in exchange for campus freedoms story as usual. The South Bend Tribune article included the customary quote from Deputy Health Officer Mark Fox, who “said lifting some restrictions would be a ‘win with students,’ many of whom, he said, have been clamoring for visitation between residence halls.” That was followed by another depressing quote from a Notre Dame spokesman about kids who miss playing pickup basketball. “One thing that we’ve heard often,” he said, “is a lot of students would just like to have the rims put back up on the basketball standards.”


You would think there would be more outcry. For a Catholic university to pervert an Easter message by bribing its students with freedoms they should already possess as children of God is the definition of unethical. As if outside basketball and volleyball could ever be considered a fair trade for personal health autonomy. But Notre Dame thinks its bigger than God. And they certainly think they have more influence. So, when they saw the kind of pressure they could get away with, they moved on to the next part of the plan. They went beyond incentivizing and flat out mandated the vaccine. All students will be required to be fully vaccinated against Covid-19 as a condition of enrollment for the 2021-22 academic year. Notice that President Jenkins never takes into consideration all the students who may have already been exposed to the virus, recovered and gained natural immunity. He is providing the vaccine  — one that is still under emergency use authorization and doesn’t have full FDA approval — as the only solution for moving forward. 


It took Notre Dame just two days to go from one extreme position to an unconscionable one. Consider in loco parentis, the parental responsibility a university assumes when a student is away from his parents; or cura personalis, a Catholic idea that means care for the entire person. The university fails on both counts. It’s not treating students like people. It’s treating them like statistics. Just like in football, Notre Dame strives to be number one. And, with vaccine compliance, it will be no different. Notre Dame’s vaccine doctrine disregards the unique personhood of each of its students and the God-given free will of its students to make their own personal health care decisions. It also disregards the right to informed consent, which makes sure that a patient understands the risks involved in a medical intervention and the right to refuse it. Notre Dame said it will “accommodate documented medical and religious exemption.” But, if by that statement they mean a religious exemptions must be documented, let them remember that we live in America, and we don’t carry around papers to prove we’re faithful. A Catholic university should know that. 
Notre Dame’s carrot quickly morphed from a very meager increase in campus liberties to the ability of a student to graduate. If that’s not coercion, what is? The university has all the power here. If these students do not comply, they risk their entire education. The cost to attend Notre Dame is currently about $76,883 per year. Some of them have already paid several years worth of tuition. They worked hard to get there. They have made a major investment, and most cannot afford to risk it all. Quite simply, these kids have been threatened. Take the vax or your future here is over. It is not intellectually honest to say that students have much free choice in the matter. 


You would hope a Catholic university president would message differently than the former head of Planned Parenthood. But, both are fond of the carrot idea.  “And we have a very narrow window to tie reopening policy to vaccination status,” said Leana Wen, who is also a CNN medical analyst. “Because otherwise, if everything is reopened, than what is the carrot going to be? How are we going to incentivize people to actually get the vaccine.” Unfortunately, whether we realize it or not, vaccine passports are happening. Don’t expect it to necessarily come down from the government. It will be university by university. Business by business. Want access, take the vaccine. It will become universal. And you will comply. It’s just unfortunate that one of our leading Catholic universities has to be at the forefront. 

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