If you’re an incoming college student, you may have to get your COVID-19 vaccination before heading to campus this fall. Already, a handful of colleges across the United States are requiring the COVID vaccine for students resuming in-person at the start of the 2021-2022 school year.
As of early April, Cornell University in upstate New York; Rutgers University in New Jersey; Nova Southeastern University in south Florida; Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colorado; Roger Williams College and Brown University in Rhode Island; Northeastern University in Boston; and St. Edward’s University in Austin have already announced mandatory vaccine policies at least five months out from fall semester.
And, according to the Association of American Colleges and Universities President Lynn Pasquerella, more institutions are likely to follow in the coming months—particularly as vaccine eligibility expands to people 16 years and older.
Aside from a public health safety standpoint, it’s not difficult to see why some colleges are requiring the COVID vaccine. Colleges and universities are just one of many sectors that were hit particularly hard by the pandemic. Students simply do not want to pay full-price tuition for remote learning, and that could spell doom for universities that are already struggling financially.
Rutgers University Chief Operating Officer Antonio Calcado told USA Today that the college’s leadership team initially decided to enact the measure when President Joe Biden announced that all adults would be eligible for vaccination by May.
“It doesn’t just make us safer. In the end, it makes our entire community safer,” explained Calcado. “That’s why we think requiring is the way to go versus encouraging.”
Aside from the student population of roughly 36,000 undergraduates on the New Brunswick campus potentially spreading the coronavirus to residents, Calcado said that, for many students, safety precautions may not be a top concern.
Rutgers’ Student Body President Nicholas F. LaBelle said that there has been mostly positive feedback about the mandate so far. Though a few have been resistant, he said that most students view it as a moral responsibility and an overall positive for campus morale. “Everyone was pretty relieved when we heard about it,” he said.
“Adding COVID-19 vaccination to our student immunization requirements will help provide a safer and more robust college experience for our students,” Rutgers President Jonathan Holloway likewise told CNBC.
Eventually, when enough vaccine supply is available, the state of New Jersey has even granted Rutgers approval to administer vaccines to faculty, staff, and students on campus.
Other institutions, such as the University of Florida, are already hosting large-scale vaccination sites to encourage students to get vaccinated. More than 5,200 students and Alachua County residents received a Pfizer vaccine dose starting on April 5, and the university is hoping to vaccinate 20,000 people every week for three weeks.
Some have been excited to receive their injections, such as 16-year-old Azul Thurdekoos, who got innoculated on April 5. “I came here to protect myself as well as my family,” Thurdekoos, who is from Ecuador, told WJXT 4 News. “I was actually really excited to get it. I wasn’t nervous at all.”
Potential exemptions for those who attend colleges requiring a COVID vaccine
Even with some colleges requiring the COVID vaccine, students shouldn’t expect to party like it’s 2019. Calcado added that he expects social distancing, mask protocols, and other safety precautions to continue into the fall semester.
Though he remains optimistic that there will be more students on campus, he said not to expect packed lecture halls full of students anytime soon.
And even though some public colleges require some vaccines for illnesses such as measles or the flu, those looking for a vaccinated campus may have better luck at private colleges, which generally have a more robust autonomy over student requirements.
But even private universities will likely have to accommodate medical, religious, or philosophical exemptions. Private and public schools and even daycare centers in all 50 states already have at least some vaccine mandates that are subject to exemptions.
“Medical and religious exemptions will be accommodated, but the expectation will be that our campuses and classrooms will overwhelmingly consist of vaccinated individuals, greatly reducing the risk of infection for all,” said Cornell President Martha Pollack and Provost Michael Kotlikoff in a statement.
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