December 9, 2020 - 8:30am

Getting Covid-19 is bad enough, but also getting flu at the same time is worse. That’s why governments have been pushing the flu vaccine extra hard this year. An added bonus is that having fewer flu patients reduces pressure on healthcare services.

Universities have been pushing the flu vaccine too. In the UK, that often means the offer of a free jab. In the US, however, more and more colleges are mandating vaccination.

For instance, Cornell University — an Ivy League institution — requires students to “participate in ongoing surveillance testing for COVID-19 and to be vaccinated against seasonal influenza” as part of its anti-Covid “behavioural compact”.

But there’s a twist. In fact a whole page of twists — in a statement from the university aimed at non-white students and staff:

“…historically, the bodies of Black, Indigenous, and other People of Color (BIPOC) have been mistreated, and used by people in power, sometimes for profit or medical gain. It is understandable that the current Compact requirements may feel suspect or even exploitative to some BIPOC members of the Cornell community. Additionally, recent acts of violence against Black people by law enforcement may contribute to feelings of distrust or powerlessness. We know this history and validate the potential concerns it may raise.”
- Cornell Health Service

The statement concludes with this offer: “we can be a resource if you need more information, an exemption, or have related questions, concerns.”

Does this mean the university is offering exemptions to its anti-Covid policy on the basis of a person’s ethnicity? It’s hard to be sure, because the wording of the full statement is so convoluted.

It should also be said that the university still recommends that all students comply with the protective measures and indeed that they are “likely to be especially helpful for BIPOC communities.”

If that’s the case, then why self-problematise what the university believes to be necessary? It’s not that they’re wrong about the record of discrimination directed at non-white people in America and elsewhere, but what does it have to do with Cornell’s anti-Covid measures? If they think there’s something discriminatory about what they’re up to, then they should say what it is and put it right. But if not, then to suggest that non-white students have a valid reason to be suspicious risks sowing unnecessary — and potentially dangerous — doubts.

What we see here in microcosm is the woke worldview in which specific instances of real discrimination are generalised into a sense that racism is everywhere and affects everything. Nothing is to be above suspicion — not even a health programme aimed at saving lives.

Peter Franklin is Associate Editor of UnHerd. He was previously a policy advisor and speechwriter on environmental and social issues.