Duke joins growing list of universities requiring vaccines

Vaccination mandates are in effect for the fall for at least a dozen institutions, and many are providing doses on their campuses.
By: | April 12, 2021
Photo courtesy of Duke University

Calling the past year the “most difficult” and “exhausting” and in its 183-year history, Duke President Vincent Price said there is one way to ensure that his university can get back to a more traditional atmosphere in the fall.

That is, by requiring COVID-19 vaccines of all students and employees.

Duke, which has been one of the leaders nationally in virus research during the pandemic, is one of a dozen colleges and universities that now have officially committed to mandating that their campus populations be vaccinated.

“Under great stress, and often at great peril, we have remained committed to each other—and to our missions of discovery, research, and patient care,” Price said in a letter to the Duke community. “I ask you to join me in taking the next step toward ensuring the safety and vitality of our university community. We know that widespread vaccination will be the only way to facilitate a return to normal and robust campus life.”

Although the university said it will make exceptions for those who have religious or medical exemptions, it has told the rest of its student body – undergrads, graduate students and professional students – that proof of vaccination is necessary to be able to partake in academics in the fall.

It is urging its campus community to sign up before the spring semester ends and is providing the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccines to its students. The state of North Carolina opened up its pool of those who can receive vaccines to 16 and over, so incoming freshmen would be eligible to receive doses of Pfizer.

Price told current students in the letter: “We cannot guarantee that our supply of vaccines will continue at the same rate; if you miss this opportunity, you will have to obtain a vaccination from another health care provider or a public health agency and provide confirmation to Student Health.”

While Duke has been helping to offer guidance on the research end, it also has experienced the effects of outbreaks on its own campus despite all of its mitigation strategies. In mid-March, it saw a spike of 180 positive cases and had to put several hundred students in quarantine while effectively ordering a shelter in place. Last week, its numbers were better – with 15 positives out of nearly 19,000 tests conducted.

The prevalence of variants – including two identified by Duke on its own campus a month ago during sequencing work (California B.1.427/B.1.429 and New York B.1.429) – pose additional concern for institution leaders in their planning for the fall. Having student populations largely vaccinated will ensure greater protection for the community and surrounding areas, along with the ability to further reopen campuses under more traditional models.

Duke’s stance has been echoed by 10 other colleges and universities that have chosen to make vaccinations mandatory this fall – Rutgers University, the University of Notre Dame, Brown University, Northeastern University, Fort Lewis College, Cornell University, Ithaca College, Nova Southeastern University, Roger Williams University and St. Edwards University.

Many other institutions are simply asking their students and employees to get vaccinated rather than mandate it, and are providing clinics or ways for their communities to receive doses.

Cleveland State University is doing both. While it is requiring those residing on campus to be vaccinated, it is counting on others to get them on their own. Despite being a largely commuter school, Cleveland State’s numbers have been low compared with other major urban universities and even held 40% of its classes in person this spring. It also has a mass vaccination on campus – the 13,000-seat Wolstein Center.

“Our community members have demonstrated that they are committed to following our safety protocols and protecting themselves and others,” President Harlan Sands said in a statement. “We will be doing our best to ensure that every member of our university community is vaccinated.”