Covid vaccines increasingly mandatory at colleges this fall

The number of colleges and universities where students have to be fully vaccinated against Covid-19 is suddenly increasing.

In the past few days, Duke University, Brown, Northeastern University, University of Notre Dame, Syracuse University and Ithaca College announced that students returning to campus this fall must be fully vaccinated before the first day of class.

Cornell University, Rutgers University, Nova Southeastern University, Roger Williams University in Bristol, Rhode Island, Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colorado, and St. Edward’s University in Austin, Texas have also announced vaccinations for autumn 2021 will be mandatory.

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More institutions are likely to follow, according to Lynn Pasquerella, president of the Association of American Colleges and Universities.

“Medical and religious exceptions are taken into account, but our locations and classrooms are expected to be predominantly vaccinated, which greatly reduces the risk of infection for everyone,” Cornell President Martha Pollack and Provost Michael Kotlikoff said in a statement.

Across the country, campuses struggled to stay open last year as fraternities, sororities, and off-campus parties suddenly spiked coronavirus cases among students. Meanwhile, students overwhelmingly declared distance learning to be a mediocre substitute for teaching.

As eligibility for Covid vaccines expands to include people 16 and older, schools need to consider how a vaccine mandate can help keep higher education back on track, Pasquerella said.

For those enrolled in school, there are already many vaccination requirements in place to help prevent the spread of diseases such as polio, diphtheria, tetanus, and whooping cough.

All 50 states have at least some immunization mandates for children who attend public schools and even children who attend private schools and daycare. In each case there are medical exceptions, and in some cases there are also religious or philosophical exceptions.

“Adding Covid-19 vaccination to our student vaccination requirements will help provide our students with a safer, more robust college experience,” said Jonathan Holloway, president of Rutgers, in a statement.

At Rutgers, students can apply for a vaccination waiver for medical or religious reasons, and students participating in completely remote programs do not need to be vaccinated.

Still, the hesitation of the vaccine remains a powerful force, especially among parents.

According to a poll by ParentsTogether, a national advocacy group, in March, only 58% of parents or caregivers said they would vaccinate their children against Covid, although 70% of parents said they would vaccinate themselves.

According to ParentsTogether, low-income households and minority groups were even less likely to vaccinate their children.

Other studies have shown that blacks and Latinos are more skeptical about vaccines than the entire US population due to historical abuse in medicine. Racial differences in vaccine distribution have also been observed in the US

“Colleges need to be one step ahead and think about how this will play out,” said Bethany Robertson, co-founder and co-director of ParentsTogether.

“We need to start the conversation with parents now to build trust and understanding of how vaccinating children against Covid-19 will protect their health, the health of their families and the health of our communities,” said Robertson.

However, in addition to students, parents, and community members, schools must also weigh the interests of faculty, staff, lawmakers, and trustees, Pasquerella said.

“It’s complicated,” she said. “No matter what decision you make, one group will ultimately be dissatisfied.”

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