Two disparate developments around COVID-19 are causing institutions of higher education in conservative and liberal states to pull in opposite directions when it comes to vaccines.
A small handful of colleges and universities, largely in the blue states, have stepped up to mandate booster shots in the past few days. The latest include Emerson College, Bentley University and Boston College in Massachusetts. They already have COVID vaccination requirements in place, so this completes the trifecta. “Last week, the CDC announced that everyone age 18 and over should get a COVID-19 booster shot,” Bentley officials said in a statement. “A fully vaccinated and boosted community will ensure our ability to continue offering a fully in-person experience for students, faculty and staff in the new year.”
On the flip side, a group from red states is pulling back requirements on vaccinations for employees who have ties to federal contracts after a U.S. District Court in Georgia placed a preliminary injunction nationwide on the Biden Administration’s mandate. The latest institutions to quash the requirement are significant: state universities in Alabama, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Kansas Missouri and South Carolina, and many others including Auburn University, Baylor University the University of Dayton and the Texas A&M system. This is the third time one of Biden’s calls for employee vaccine mandates has been rescinded by the courts.
“Since the executive order was stayed, the university is suspending its efforts to require vaccination of our employees,” Mississippi Chancellor Glenn Boyce wrote. “If the mandate is reinstated by a court, we will adjust our efforts accordingly.”
For now, employees won’t have to comply with the executive order and get vaccinated by Jan. 4, 2022. Because the federal requirement was imposed for a short period of time, many of them got vaccinated for fear that they could be suspended or lose jobs. Oddly, on the same day they waived the requirement, some universities messaged their communities thanking them for getting preventive doses and encouraging them to still get them.
“I wish to thank everyone in the K-State community who is vaccinated,” Kansas State officials wrote. “We encourage people to get vaccinated if they have not done so already. Vaccines are free and widely available. They have been proven safe after millions of inoculations and continue to offer strong protection against COVID-19.”
More than 1,000 institutions have vaccination requirements in place for students and employees or both but those largely cut across political lines too. Only 60% of the U.S. population is fully vaccinated, and there is urgency from public health officials to have them complete primary doses plus the booster shots.
A few universities in the past week had just implemented mandates for employees, including the University of Texas and the University of Minnesota. It is unclear whether they will backtrack on the requirements. If the stay is lifted, institutions across the nation who have federal contracts tied to research stand to lose hundreds of millions of dollars.
The decisions come on both sides as the United States wrestles with the still unknown omicron variant, which is spreading across the U.S. and has been spotted through testing on some campuses. It is also still heavily battling the delta variant, which is still leading cases. The National Guard has been deployed in both New Hampshire and Maine to cope with rising hospitalizations. The CDC is predicting that another 40,000 Americans may die of COVID-19 by the end of the year. Some colleges have kept mask mandates in place through the early part of next year or are requiring double testing when students return in January as an added layer of safety.