UC, CSU systems will require vaccines once FDA-approved

Will the decision by two massive public institutions lead to others instituting the same requirement if fully authorized?
By: | April 22, 2021
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Because all three COVID-19 vaccines remain under emergency use authorization by the Food and Drug Administration, many public universities have been reluctant to mandate them for students for the fall semester.

But on Thursday, two of the biggest in the nation – the University of California and California State University systems – said that once that barrier lifts and they are fully authorized for approval, they will require them.

The UC and CSU systems combined have 33 campuses across the state, more than 750,000 students and more than 250,000 employees, so the decision not only has a massive impact on those they serve but could send aftershocks across the higher education landscape. For other states still weighing decisions, this could be a way to mandate them … without actually mandating them now.

“This is the most comprehensive and consequential university plan for COVID-19 vaccines in the country,” CSU Chancellor Joseph Castro said in a statement of the more than 1 million who would be required to receive doses, save for those who receive medical or religious exemptions. “We are sharing this information now to give students, their families and our employees ample time to make plans to be vaccinated prior to the start of the fall term.”

With only four months remaining until the beginning of the academic year – and no certainty in sight for when any of the three vaccines will get that approval – the ask is a big one, especially for those who don’t want to get them. One of the vaccines, Johnson & Johnson, has been paused over blood clot concerns, although U.S. public health officials said that could be lifted by this weekend.

Still, with Moderna and Pfizer vaccines rolling out quickly, their efficacy and safety remaining high and with many students already jumping in for appointments after all those 16 and over were approved in California last week, CSU and UC officials are hopefuls that they will see their populations get vaccinated as quickly as possible.

“Receiving a vaccine for the virus that causes COVID-19 is a key step people can take to protect themselves, their friends and family, and our campus communities while helping bring the pandemic to an end,” said UC President Michael Drake.

Castro added, “The state of California has been a leader in the administration of COVID-19 vaccines, and Californians receiving a vaccine has led to significantly reducing the transmission of COVID-19 in our state. Continued vigilance will further mitigate the spread of the disease that has radically altered our lives over the past year.”

Only a handful of other public institutions have come forward with plans to mandate vaccines for students – Nova Southeastern University in Florida and St. Edwards University in Texas – but both are significantly smaller. Rutgers University in New Jersey was the first to come forward with a mandate. Many others fear legal repercussions over mandating vaccines that are still under emergency use authorization so they have simply encouraged populations to get vaccinated.

More than 60 private nonprofit institutions have announced plans to mandate vaccines, including several top tier universities such as Stanford, Columbia and Princeton. Three other top medical research universities – Emory, Johns Hopkins and Duke – also have said they will require vaccines on campus this fall, as will several more in California – Harvey Mudd College, Pomona College, Pitzer College, Samuel Merritt University, Claremont McKenna University and the University of San Diego.