Northwestern mandates vaccines, 75% of students are on board

The university joins more than 330 institutions that have decided to require vaccination against COVID-19. It already has a strong start.
By: | May 12, 2021
Photo courtesy of Northwestern University

Northwestern University said it will require vaccines of students this fall, but that may not have been the most significant news to come out of Evanston, Ill., on Wednesday.

Northwestern officials, in their letter to the community announcing the mandate, also indicated that a surprising 75% of its students have either been vaccinated or are “in the course of vaccination.”

With uncertainty swirling nationwide on whether students will get doses on their own, the update likely was heartening for those institutions who thus far have only encouraged their communities to get preventive COVID-19 vaccines.

Still, many institutions like Northwestern, aren’t taking chances as they prepare to open more fully this fall.

“COVID-19 vaccines are the most important tool to help end the pandemic, and requiring students to be vaccinated will best support the health of our community and position us for in-person classroom and co-curricular activities for the Fall Term,” Northwestern Provost Kathleen Hagerty and two other university officials said in a letter to their community.

Northwestern will not require faculty, staff or those coming to campus to be vaccination. It is considering options for those who might have religious or medical needs as well as those who might express hesitancy in getting them.

For international students, Hagerty and the team said, “Students who are unable to secure vaccination access in their home countries will be able to request a temporary exception and be signed up to be vaccinated upon arrival to campus.” Those who already have received vaccine doses abroad that are not yet approved for use in the U.S. will be able to apply for an exception.

What’s next, besides the vaccine mandate

Though the state of Illinois has relaxed some of its COVID-19 protocols, Northwestern is keeping some of its mitigation strategies in place, at least temporarily. They include:

Testing. Students still will be required to have two Abbott rapid tests per week, primarily because the university said it doesn’t have all students’ vaccination records. Northwestern said the Abbott tests have provided more succinct and faster results than its Color tests, which are being eliminated. The university has not made a decision on testing requirements for the fall.

Masks. Northwestern said students who have been vaccinated do not need to wear masks in outdoor spaces but is asking that all those on campus in indoor locations continue to wear them. Those who have not been vaccinated have been advised to keep them on when they are at the university.

Gatherings. Northwestern expects that with Illinois moving into Phase 5 of its COVID-19 pandemic plan on Friday that there will be a relaxation regarding capacity in both indoor and outdoor areas. Currently, gatherings are limited to 50 people, with masks required and social distancing in place.

Fall 2021. During the 2020-21 academic year, students were welcomed back to campus during the winter or could remain remote if they chose. There will still be a few remote options this coming fall, but Northwestern expects learning to be fully face-to-face, aiming “to host as many classes in person as possible.”

Around the nation

Almost 60% of the nation’s adults have received at least one shot of COVID-19 vaccines, though those who are fully vaccinated are only at 35%. One of the least vaccinated groups are 16-24 year-olds. Those numbers, along with guidance from public health experts, have driven several colleges and universities to mandate vaccines over the past few weeks.

On Monday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that New York will require students attending State University of New York and City University of New York colleges to be vaccinated once FDA approval is granted to one of the vaccines. That holds true, as well, for both the University of California and California State University systems.

More than 330 higher education institutions now have mandates in place, some with faculty and staff included and others without. Northwestern is only among a handful within Illinois to require them (Columbia College, DePaul University, Loyola University Chicago, and Roosevelt University) and state numbers mirror national numbers, with just 35% of its population fully vaccinated.