17 more colleges make vaccines mandatory for fall

Emory, George Washington, Yale, Georgetown and some HBCUs are among the latest group requiring students to get vaccinated. Many others are still deciding.
By: | April 20, 2021
Photo courtesy of Duke University

At least 17 more colleges and universities have mandated that students be vaccinated before returning to campus for the fall semester, but many more say they’ll either wait for state guidance or rely on their populations to make decisions about getting them.

That growing list now includes several that made decisions in the past 24 hours – Emory University, George Washington University, Clark Atlanta University, Yale University, Morehouse College and its School of Medicine, Spelman College and College of the Atlantic in Maine – that have opted to require vaccinations over what they say is an abundance of caution to protect their communities and those surrounding campuses.

They join American University, Assumption University, Bowdoin College, Georgetown University, Grinnell College, Seattle University, Vassar College, Manhattanville College and Fairleigh Dickinson University who made decisions in the past few days.

“COVID-19 vaccines reduce the spread of the disease and are very effective at preventing serious illness and hospitalization,” said Sylvia Burwell, American University President, in a statement to students. “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.”

Those decisions could be complicated by those who seek exemptions and, as Burwell pointed out, by international students who were given vaccines that have not been authorized in the U.S.

“We are seeking further guidance about how to manage this situation and will communicate directly with these students,” she said. “For international students who may be returning for fall semester and are not yet vaccinated, we will provide information about how to acquire a vaccine when you arrive in the U.S.”

Grinnell and Bowdoin were the first colleges in their states – Iowa and Maine, respectively – to employ the mandate. Grinnell is closely connected to its community and has been one of the nation’s leaders in COVID-19 dashboard development that encompasses both campus numbers and the surrounding area. Safety remains top priority in an area where mask wearing has been hit or miss.

For Bowdoin, the requirement offers added assurance in its plans to reopen by the fall. Officials believe there is enough time for all students to get doses of either Pfizer, Moderna or Johnson & Johnson, which was put on pause last week over blood clot concerns but is expected to be reintroduced as early as Friday, according to Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases.

“I know that at the moment it can be challenging for faculty and staff to schedule a vaccination appointment,” Bowdoin President Clayton Rose wrote to his community. “We have a number of months before the new academic year begins and there is every indication that the process will get easier in the weeks ahead as more vaccines are made available in Maine and across the country. These vaccinations are essential for returning to normal, allowing us to protect ourselves and one another.”

The 17 new colleges mandating vaccines join Duke University, Rutgers University, the University of Notre Dame, Boston University, Brown University, Northeastern University, Fort Lewis College, Cornell University, Ithaca College, Nova Southeastern University, Roger Williams University and St. Edward’s University. Maine’s community colleges and a few others such as Oakland University in Michigan are requiring only those who live on campus be vaccinated. Some have included faculty and staff, while others haven’t.

Many other institution leaders have been up front in not requiring them of students, faculty and staff, especially in states where governors are pushing against vaccine mandates. The University of North Carolina and University of Oregon said it would not require them, although leaders at both institutions expressed that may be adjusted as guidelines change or more institutions get on board.

Even after putting its requirement in place, St. Edward’s in Austin, Texas, opted to revise its language to comply with Gov. Greg Abbott’s executive order on agencies not forcing individuals to disclose whether they’ve been vaccinated.

Other colleges and universities have simply steered clear of the potential political and legal ramifications by heeding to students and faculty in getting doses on their own. Many have stressed the importance of returning to a more traditional campus in the fall as a way to get them on board.

In a recent poll of more than 15,000 prospective colleges students and 5,000 parents done by enrollment solutions and consulting firm Maguire Associates, 85% of students would enroll in a college or university that had a vaccine requirement and more than 90% said they would be OK if the school mandated mask wearing and social distancing. Only 57% of parents said they would be OK with their child enrolling if vaccines were not available to their children by the fall.