More Colleges Mandate COVID-19 Vaccination

Andrew Deichler By Andrew Deichler May 6, 2021
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More Colleges Mandate COVID-19 Vaccination

​The number of colleges mandating COVID-19 vaccination for the 2021-2022 academic year has soared in the past month, even as some states have attempted to prevent schools from making the requirement.

Demand Grows

Over 200 campuses have implemented some type of vaccination mandate for the fall, according to The Chronicle of Higher Education, a news source dedicated to covering colleges and universities. That's quite a jump from early April, when only about 10 schools said they would be requiring it. Most schools are mandating all students to get the vaccine, though some are only requiring residential students to do so. Fewer schools are ordering all employees to be vaccinated.

In late April, the University of California (UC) and California State University (CSU) announced that they would be requiring vaccination for students, faculty and staff on campus properties, contingent on approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and supply access. FDA approval is expected by the fall. Students and employees would be able to seek exemptions based on medical or religious reasons.

Combined, UC and CSU operate 33 campuses and have more than 1 million students and employees. The universities said that they were making the announcement now to give students, families and employees enough time to plan for the fall.

Back to Normal?

UC and CSU hope to use their size and influence to encourage other colleges to mandate vaccinations. According to Dr. Carrie Byington, UC executive vice president and head of UC Health, the universities want to be leaders in this effort. "UC and CSU are very large systems, and we absolutely believe that vaccination will be required for us to get back to levels of normal instruction on our campuses," she said.

But getting back to normal is proving to be difficult. Given that new variants of the virus are rapidly emerging and some people are hesitant to take the vaccine, experts now believe that reaching herd immunity is unlikely. While more than half of the population in the United States has received at least one dose of the vaccine, daily vaccination rates are falling—even with vaccination open to the entire population. Experts now view the virus as a threat they may need to manage for years.

Further complicating a return to normalcy for colleges have been the actions of some state leaders. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed an executive order in March that prevents any colleges that receive state funding from denying service or entry to individuals based on vaccination status. In Utah, Gov. Spencer Cox signed a law preventing public universities from requiring vaccination unless they allow exemptions for medical, religious or personal beliefs. As Geoffrey T. Landward, deputy commissioner and general counsel for the Utah System of Higher Education, explained, that would allow students to refuse vaccination for any reason.

Encouragement and Convenience

Given some of the legal complications, Landward noted that many schools are trying to incentivize vaccination without mandating it. Some schools are giving out gift cards, free courses and cash to students who show proof of vaccination. Other schools are simply doing what they can to make the process convenient; for example, Boise State in Boise, Idaho has established a vaccination station on campus.

Chi Nguyen, a junior majoring in HR management at Boise State and a SHRM member, noted that the school has been actively encouraging students to get the vaccine. "I'm not sure if they will require students to be vaccinated to come back because right now, we're 'semi-back,' and we have safety protocols in place," she said. "So even before we had the vaccine, it's been very safe. But I know the school is really encouraging people. They do their best to push through social media, e-mail and word of mouth that students should get the vaccine."

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