Noonsong woke up early to go to a face-to-face class one morning, but she couldn't get out of bed because of a headache and muscle pain. She is suffering from temporary adverse reactions due to her COVID-19 vaccination the previous day. "I think I can't go to school. What should I do?" She was worried about her attendance. Suddenly she recalled that SMWU introduced the Vaccine Absence system, so she sent an e-mail to her professor with her certificate of vaccination. Thanks to the system, she was able to get enough rest without any academic disadvantages.
To encourage vaccination
In June, the Ministry of Education decided on the expansion of face-to-face activities at universities after the 70% vaccination rate of all citizens is reached. As vaccination reservations for 18 to 49-year-olds became available from August 9, this included the vaccination of university students and as of September 17, 70% of all citizens have received their first shot. Therefore, the anticipation of the expansion of face-to-face classes rose. However, it is unlikely that face-to-face classes will happen anytime soon as more than 3,000 confirmed cases occur each day. Also, as of October 7, the rate of COVID-19 confirmed cases among those in their 20s—the age of university students—has reached 21%. In order to return to face-to-face classes and experience a normal school life, the Ministry of Education introduced the Vaccine Absence system. On August 9, the Ministry of Education advised universities to use this system that officially recognizes students' absences due to COVID-19 vaccination as attendance. The move is aimed at encouraging students to get vaccinated and making efforts to normalize university management. The Ministry of Education recommended that each university's academic management plan and each school's conditions be reviewed and applied across the board. The maximum period of attendance recognition for adverse reactions may be individually determined by each school according to the conditions of the school or students' symptoms.
Then, SMWU also introduced the COVID-19 Vaccine Absence to reduce academic disadvantages caused by side effects after vaccination in the second semester of this year. The system is limited to face-to-face or real-time video classes on the day and next day of vaccination, for up to two days. In order to use the Vaccine Absence, students must submit a vaccination certificate within seven days of vaccination by stating the class name, vaccination date, and attendance request date to the professor by e-mail or through the SnowBoard Q&A function. A vaccine certificate can be either the confirmation of vaccination history or vaccination certificate. The confirmation of vaccination history can be issued by the hospital and the vaccination certificate can be issued on the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) vaccination assistant website or the Government 24 website. When the professor in charge of the class receives the certificate, the professor must check the application for excused absence for attendance. However, students should be aware that the Vaccine Absence cannot be used with recorded lectures. If it is impossible to watch the video within the attendance recognition period due to vaccination, students may request from the instructor an extension of the attendance recognition period. Also, from the third day after vaccination, if attendance is difficult due to symptoms after vaccination, students must submit a medical certificate to the course professor and apply for excused absence.
Use of Vaccine Absence
To investigate Sookmyungians' opinions on the Vaccine Absence of SMWU, SMT surveyed their status of vaccination and the side effects. According to the survey, 34 out of 73 (46.6%) respondents have completed their first dose of vaccination, and 31 out of 73 (42.5%) have completed their second dose of vaccination.1) 8 out of 73 (11%) haven't received anything yet. It appears that most respondents have at least received their first shot. Among the 65 respondents who have been vaccinated, 38 (58.5%) have experienced adverse reactions or side effects after vaccination. As the Vaccine Absence can be used for up to two days, SMT inquired about the duration of their symptoms or side effects. 19 out of 38 (50%) said that the side effects lasted two days. 13 out of 38 (34.2%) experienced adverse reactions for three days, four days for 4 respondents (10.5%), and one day for 2 respondents (5.3%). One anonymous Sookmyungian said, "The side effects may last longer than expected, and once vaccinated, it was difficult to maintain a smooth condition for about a week because I felt tired and exhausted." The duration of side effects will vary from student to student, but half of the respondents replied that it was two days, and some students felt it to be longer, like the one above. Also, when asked about the use of Vaccination Absence after getting vaccinated, only 3 out of 65 (4.6%) have used the system. SMT asked the remaining 62 students why they had not used the Vaccine Absence and got 57 varied responses. 30 of the 57 (52.6%) had no or minor adverse reactions after vaccination, and 22 of the 57 (38.6%) could not use the system due to taking only recorded lectures. 11 of the 57 (19.3%) didn't know about the Vaccine Absence system. Other responses stated that there was no need to use the system as they had been vaccinated on weekends or holidays. It seems that many students did not use the Vaccine Absence for various reasons.
Furthermore, the respondents to the survey expressed either their satisfaction or dissatisfaction with the Vaccine Absence. Out of 6 respondents (including multiple respondents) who were satisfied with the use of the Vaccine Absence, 4 respondents (80%) said that the system helped them because the time of face-to-face and real-time video lectures overlapped with the time of vaccination. 2 respondents (20%) said they got help from the Vaccine Absence as they were unable to participate in the class due to abnormal reactions that appeared after vaccination. To find out students' satisfaction with the standards of the system, SMT asked about the satisfaction of the attendance period which is two days. 24 out of 73 (32.9%) replied that they were unsatisfied with the period and 20 out of 24 (83.3%) said the Vaccine Absence is not helpful because the attendance period is too short. One respondent said, "After getting vaccinated, there may be no side effects for two days, and after two days, side effects may suddenly occur." This student was not the only one who thought about the timing of the adverse reactions. Another suggested improving the Vaccine Absence saying, "In some cases, side effects may appear suddenly even after two weeks, so I hope that the attendance period will be flexible regardless of the period when submitting a medical certificate." Depending on individual differences, the two-day period may feel very short and may be a burden to students. Satisfaction of the standard that attendance recognition for recorded lectures is impossible was also asked. 25 out of 73 (34.2%) replied that they were unsatisfied and out of 27 respondents (including multiple respondents), 18 (66.7%) confessed that the Vaccine Absence is practically not helpful because there are few face-to-face or real-time lectures. One student said, "Even if it is a recorded lecture, classes that have a short attendance period of one to two days should also be allowed to use Vaccine Absence." These opinions show that various attendance recognition standards are needed rather than a unified recognition standard.
Can't it get any better?
Based on this survey, SMT delivered students' opinions on the Vaccine Absence to the Office of Academic Affairs but received no response. Instead, SMT investigated how the system was operating in other schools. On June 1, Dongguk University introduced the COVID-19 Vaccine Absence system before the second semester started. Absence is limited to the day of the vaccination, and a certificate of absence and a certificate of vaccination must be submitted to the relevant professor. In August, when vaccinations for those aged 18 to 49 began, it was announced that the acceptance of absence would be expanded to the next day of vaccination. Ewha Womans University also decided to allow absence for up to two days, including the vaccination date with students submitting a vaccination certificate to the relevant professor within two weeks of vaccination. Meanwhile, Seoul National University announced a more detailed plan. It allows for up to three days, including the day of vaccination. Moreover, Seoul National University decided to take measures such as providing alternative classes if students were absent from class due to vaccination. When students use the system during the exam period, the student's exam date is re-designated, or an alternative examination is provided. Not only the above universities but also many others are making an effort for the safety of their students.
SMT then compared SMWU's current Vaccine Absence with other universities' systems to find improvements. First of all, SMT looked at the period in which attendance can be recognized only with a vaccination certificate among 15 major universities in Seoul. Three universities, including Seoul National University, recognized a maximum of three days, and the remaining 12 universities, including SMWU, recognized a maximum of two days. The proportion of schools that recognized only the day of vaccination and the next day is the highest. SMWU also operates an attendance recognition period similar to most major universities in Seoul. However, as shown in the above survey, 17 out of 38 (44.7%) said that adverse reactions or side effects after vaccination lasted for more than 3 days. Therefore, SMWU will need to consider flexibility considering that the duration of adverse reactions for individuals is different. In addition, it seems necessary to take measures for lecture deficits. As mentioned earlier, Seoul National University is providing alternative class materials to students who use the Vaccine Absence. Hongik University also operates a system that recognizes attendance through doing alternative assignments or taking recorded lectures. However, SMWU has no supplementary measures for class deficits. Kwon Woosung, a Professor of the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering, said, "Since it is a loss for students not able to attend lectures, I think there is a need for a way to compensate for the loss of lectures caused by the Vaccine Absence." As he said, if students fail to take classes due to vaccination, they may have difficulties in their studies. Therefore, it seems important to prepare a plan to guarantee students' right to study in consideration of the purpose of the Vaccine Absence.
Until the day we take off our masks
Vaccination is actively underway to overcome the COVID-19 crisis. It is most important to get enough rest as temporary adverse reactions may occur after vaccination. Under these circumstances, the Vaccine Absence helps students get vaccinated safely. However, it seems that supplementation and improvement of the system are also necessary. The school needs to actively reflect students' voices for their right to study and safety. It's time for everyone to do their best for the day when everyone takes classes at school as before.
1) The total number of students enrolled is 12,596, with a survey participation rate of about 0.6%.
Yoon Kim Eunji / Reporter
Park Sung Iyoung / Reporter