by Leah Willingham, Associated Press

The board governing Mississippi’s public universities voted Friday not to require students to be vaccinated against COVID-19 despite the objections of the two medical doctors who are part of the board.

During a special meeting, nine members of the Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning Board of Trustees said the vaccine should not be mandated. Many said they support students getting the COVID-19 vaccine, but that shots should be voluntary.

Dr. Alfred McNair Jr. and Dr. Steven Cunningham were the only two board members who voted to mandate vaccinations.

“This volunteer thing is ridiculous,” said McNair, who is chief of medical staff at Biloxi Regional Medical Center. “If they had polio, it wouldn’t be a volunteer thing.”

McNair said cases among young people are rising in the state and that he’s seeing children hospitalized with more severe symptoms than ever before. He said people who recover from the virus can have long-term side effects.

“My point of view, taking care of these patients every day, what I’m seeing is younger patients running into trouble,” McNair said. “These young people think they’re immune, but actually, that’s where the virus is hitting and the college is just wide open for it.”

Cunningham, a radiologist from Hattiesburg, said the board already tried letting students volunteer for the shots, and it hasn’t been very effective.

“I really think mandating is only going to be the only way to help save some of these kids,” he said.

Board member Bruce Martin, an insurance agent, voted not to mandate vaccinations. He said he was vaccinated and fully supports as many students being vaccinated as is possible. But he said some people will never agree to be vaccinated, even if it’s mandated.

“It just boggles my mind, but they will just not do it and us mandating it is not going to make those people do it,” he said. “We’ve taken their money, they enrolled in the school, and I don’t know how in the world, you’re gonna get people to be vaccinated by demanding they be vaccinated.”

Member Teresa Hubbard also voted against mandating the shots. She said people enrolled in school with the expectation they wouldn’t be required to get the COVID-19 vaccine. However, she said the schools need to come up with a more aggressive plan for getting students to get vaccinated.

“We’ve got to get those numbers up in some way,” she said.