Growing number of U.S. colleges mandating COVID-19 vaccinations for fall return

A growing number of colleges is requiring students and/or staff to be vaccinated for the fall semester, while others are resisting the use of so-called vaccine passports for those returning to campus.

More than 100 universities across the U.S. have COVID-19 vaccination mandates in place for those returning to campus as of Wednesday, according to a tracker by The Chronicles of Higher Education.

Most of the universities are requiring all students to get vaccinated, while some are mandating the shots for staff as well. Some universities are only requiring residential students to get vaccinated.

A number of D.C.-area universities are mandating vaccines including American University, George Washington University, Georgetown University, Johns Hopkins University, Trinity Washington University and the University of Maryland.

“While public health measures like face coverings and physical distancing will likely be part of our fall operations, robust vaccination in our community will enable us to expand activities and interactions that enrich the educational, research, and social experiences that are fundamental to AU,” American University President Sylvia Burwell said in an announcement this month.

Since the pandemic began, more than 660,000 coronavirus cases have been linked to American colleges and universities as of Wednesday, according to a New York Times tracker. More than 240,000 of these cases have occurred since Jan. 1.

Both the University of California and the University of Pennsylvania last week joined the growing list of universities mandating vaccines.

University of Pennsylvania officials announced that all students should plan on being fully vaccinated before returning to campus, except those exempt due to medical or religious reasons. The university will provide vaccination clinics for unvaccinated students, but they will have to quarantine for two weeks after receiving their first dose.

The University of California said it has a proposed policy that would require students, faculty, academic appointees and staff accessing any UC campus facilities to get their COVID-19 shots beginning this fall once the Food and Drug Administration has fully approved a vaccine.

Since the COVID-19 vaccines received emergency use authorization (EUA) rather than full approval, some argue that individuals cannot be ordered to get vaccinated.

“There is legal uncertainty on whether universities can mandate a vaccine under an EUA. At this point, there are no court decisions on point. The uncertainty stems from the fact that the EUA provision — the statutory clauses giving the secretary of health and human services — tell the secretary that he, she or they have to inform recipients that they have the ‘option to accept or refuse’ the vaccine, and the consequences of refusal,” said Dorit Reiss, a professor at UC Hastings College of the Law.

She added that some interpret this as meaning that people have the right to accept or refuse a vaccine, but said the law says nothing to universities, employers or states.

“This is on the background of decades in which clear legal authorities allowed them to mandate vaccines. Under these circumstances, my view (and that of others) is that it’s implausible to read the law as prohibiting university mandates in silence,” Ms. Reiss said. “So universities have, at least, a good argument that they can mandate a vaccine under an EUA.”

Although some colleges are mandating vaccines, thousands of universities have not followed suit. Some have said explicitly they will not require vaccinations. Texas A&M University, which has more than 71,000 students enrolled this fall, is one of them.

“Texas A&M … is following the governor’s executive order, which stipulates that vaccines are voluntary for all state agencies,” said university spokeswoman Kelly Brown. “A&M is encouraging all faculty, staff and students to get the vaccine.”

Governors in Arizona, Idaho, Utah, Texas, Florida and Montana have signed orders banning state institutions from mandating proof of vaccination. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ order goes even further and will punish businesses that require proof of vaccination by denying them state grants and contracts, saying “so-called COVID-19 vaccine passports reduce individual freedom and will harm patient privacy.”

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