‘Will The Vaccine Be Affordable?’ College Students Question Warner During Q & A

College students like William and Mary freshman Mia Tilman asked Sen. Mark Warner a variety of questions Thursday.

By Erica Turman

October 9, 2020

Students from across Virginia raised questions about a variety of topics from COVID-19 to broadband internet.

LEXINGTON –Can you guarantee everyone will have access to an affordable vaccine? That was one of the questions posed to US Sen. Mark Warner Thursday. Warner held a town hall session with college students from across Virginia, most of whom wanted answers about COVID-19. 

“What is being done to ensure once vaccines are out and safe, everyone has access to the healthcare they need?” asked William and Mary student Mia Tilman. 

“We’re still trying to sort through the hierarchy of who’s going to get vaccinated and how we’re gonna make sure it’s affordable or free,” Warner said. “The good news is that these companies are really accelerating the process and they are doing it appropriately.” 

RELATED: Is a Quicker COVID-19 Vaccine Worth the Risk?

Warner also expressed his sympathy to current college students, saying he couldn’t imagine what they are going through. 

“For those of you in college, this is probably not how you thought you were going to spend your fall 2020 semester, but we are going to get through this,” Warner said. “There are brighter days ahead, and one of the ways we are going to get through this is by voting.” 

Warner compared the pandemic to a historic American tragedy.  

“We are now seven months into this pandemic. You know, seven months after Pearl Harbor, America was the arsenal of the whole world. Seven months into this pandemic, we still have not been able to get our act together,” Warner said. “I think that is very unfortunate.” 

Hard to see beyond the screen

Warner, who has been very vocal about his distaste for how the Trump administration has handled the crisis, said he would take a vaccine as soon as Dr. Facui says it is “safe”. He also encouraged students to “follow the science.”

“I know in colleges across the state, some have done very well [with keeping infection rates down]. Some not as well,” he said. “The fact that we have not provided each of these institutions with enough safety protocols, equipment and protection is a huge error.”

He then posed a question to the students, asking how the virus affected their education. Also, what resources do they need to be successful? 

“A big thing I have noticed just as an HBCU student in general during the pandemic is cultural competence with education and just making sure professors are relating to students and being understanding,” said Hampton University student Chloe Williams. “I think seeing someone beyond the screen is difficult right now, but just keeping that sense of humanity and recognizing everyone’s situation is different.”

Tilman agreed. As a freshman, she’s had to adjust to a new environment while also trying to find what she needs for class. 

“You need access to technology, you need reliable access to housing, wireless internet, a printer, all of these things that were provided to you before,” Amador-Hernandez said.  

Warner acknowledged the need for things like universal broadband. Without those tools, it’s harder for some students to attend school remotely, as they have poor or no access to the internet.

“In 2020, this is a civil right, and this is an economic right,” he said. “We need universal broadband. Other nations have done it, and we need to do it as well.”

'Will The Vaccine Be Affordable?' College Students Question Warner During Q & A
US Senator Mark Warner answered a variety of questions Thursday from college students.

Should there be social media restrictions? 

Virginia State student Jeremiah Brooks brought up current discussions about rewriting Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. Created in the late 1990s, Section 230 says platforms like Facebook and Twitter have no responsibility for any of the content that shows up. Brooks wondered what a revised version of the law might look like. 

“In 2020, when 65 percent of Americans get their news off Facebook and Google, they’re not neutral platforms,” Warner said. “I think there are a couple ways we could look at this. You have a First Amendment right to say whatever you want, but maybe it shouldn’t be amplified and moved out by bots. Could we put restrictions, as other countries have, on hate speech? We’re gonna need you guys on this screen to help us figure it out. Many of the men and women I work with, they don’t understand the internet. They don’t understand social media.” 

Warner pointed to the popular Netflix documentary “The Social Dilemma,” which warns viewers that social media can be used as a tool to radicalize people.

“It’s really worth watching. You get this reinforcing [of] only one set of messages. It really scares the heck out of me,” Warner explained. “The idea that QAnon, which to me, is just really wacky now has millions of followers because of a lack of any kind of constrictions around social media is something that is really chilling.”

Will students get stimulus help? 

Warner also called out companies like Facebook and Amazon, saying they’ve made trillions of dollars since the pandemic started. He called for them to offer a “one-time bequest” to universities, providing help with computers and internet access for students in need.

“These social media platforms have made the kind of money that just blows your mind and they could really be very helpful,” said Warner.

 A student panelist challenged his notion of a one-time payout.

“I like the idea of a onetime thing, but this needs to be a multigenerational thing,” said Brookes. “These companies are going to become richer and richer, and I think doing it as a onetime thing isn’t going to really fix the problem.”

Warner, who as of 2019 was the third wealthiest U.S. Senator with a net worth of $ $90.2 million, disputed that idea a bit.

“This is where it is easier to get a one time large hit than a multiyear,” Warner said. “But, I don’t disagree with you.”

When will a stimulus package help college students? Several students raised that question, pointing out the government largely ignored them in the original March bill. Warner said that he wants to help students with their loans after college. Warner noted that interest on a student loan should not be higher than that of a home loan.

“I think one of the things that I would do in the next relief bill is I would target it more towards people who are most in need,” he explained. “[I] might not send $1,200 to someone who is making $85,000 a year. I might target it to unemployed people or students with student debt.”

Warner ended the evening by reminding students to vote in the upcoming election.

“This is the most important election of my life, and I am three times as old as all of you guys,” he said. “We are really going to determine what the heart and soul of our country are going to look like. I will ask you all as much as possible to be involved.”

Erica Turman is a freelance reporter for Dogwood. You can reach her at [email protected].

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