Colleges Begin to Require COVID-19 Vaccines for In-Person Attendance
By Madyson Fitzgerald
A number of colleges and universities have recently announced that they will be requiring students, faculty and staff to receive the COVID-19 vaccine before attending in-person in the fall.
After a surge that drove the United States through the holiday season, COVID-19 cases have recently reached a plateau, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Since January 2020, the U.S. has had over 31.7 million cases, with almost 381,000 in the last seven days.
More than 650,000 cases of COVID-19 have been reported in Virginia, according to the Virginia Department of Health. With over 3,000 outbreaks, those reported on college campuses have led to 5,208 cases among those in campus communities.
Virginia’s colleges and universities have handled the COVID-19 pandemic in different ways. Some elected to remain closed for the entire 2020-2021 school year. Others conjured up a plan to return in person right away.
Some schools have done a better job at keeping cases down than others, but the COVID-19 vaccine offers each one an opportunity to keep students safe.
As of April 22, Best Colleges, a college research tool, updated its database of schools requiring the COVID-19 vaccine. So far, more than 50 colleges have made public announcements with plans to require full or partial vaccination among students, faculty and staff.
The list includes some big-name schools, including Yale, Dartmouth, Princeton, Johns Hopkins and Columbia. A few HBCUs also made the list, including both Spelman and Morehouse. On Friday, both California public school systems announced that they intended to require vaccinations. At the moment, the school in Virginia requiring vaccinations is Hampton University.
On April 6, Hampton announced that it would require faculty and staff members to be fully vaccinated by May 31. To help this process along, they released plans to hold vaccinations at the HU Mobile Health Unit. On select days in April, the mobile unit will be offering appointments for faculty and staff to receive the Pfizer or Moderna COVID-19 vaccines.
President William R. Harvey said in a news release, “We encourage all faculty and staff who have not been vaccinated to take advantage of this opportunity.”
The concept of required vaccines for college students is not new. Colleges in the Commonwealth adhere to numerous immunization and screening requirements for new and returning students. The COVID-19 vaccine, however, is a rarity.
In the midst of a global pandemic, researchers were under intense pressure to create an effective vaccine at an exceptionally rapid pace. These vaccines were then issued by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration under Emergency Use Authorization, or EUA for short.
According to the CDC, 222 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine have been administered nationwide. As of last week, over a fourth of all Americans have been fully vaccinated.
The FDA can authorize unapproved medical treatments under emergency situations. Requiring them at colleges and universities is a different story.
Already, four states — New Jersey, Utah, Texas and Florida — are considering passing legislation to block vaccine mandates at schools. A day after Nova Southeastern University in Florida announced it would be requiring vaccinations, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis issued an executive order blocking businesses and government institutions from doing the same.
Another problem made strikingly clear during the height of the pandemic is that communities of color do not have access to the same resources as other neighborhoods. There is also a lack of trust between the health community and people of color.
Sherita Hill Golden, vice president and chief diversity officer at Johns Hopkins Medicine, said in an article that this lack of trust could cause problems. “People of color, along with immigrants and differently-abled men and women have endured centuries of having their trust violated,” Golden said. “We need to give people the facts about the vaccine’s safety and efficacy, and renew their trust toward health care in general.”
“It’s incumbent on health care organizations and leaders to help repair and restore that relationship,” she continued.
Based on demographic data from the CDC, white people are overrepresented in vaccination encounters. Black and Hispanic people are receiving vaccines at a lower rate than what is representative of the full population.
For those it applies to, the CDC has also outlined vaccine exemptions. People at risk of adverse reactions because of allergies can be given a medical exemption. Certain religious beliefs also prevent people from getting vaccines, earning a religious exemption. There is legislation in place to help workplaces navigate vaccine exemptions, but the same cannot be said of schools.
Among so many concerns, most schools are creating their own middle ground. On March 15, Dickinson State University in North Dakota announced that those who have been fully vaccinated will receive a pin or bracelet that provides them exemption from the campus-wide mask mandate.
The next few months will be critical in determining whether all colleges will require vaccinations. To attend in-person, however, the COVID-19 vaccine provides the most effective protection against the virus thus far.