University of California mandates vaccines without full FDA approval

Delta variant's threat presses system to act before fall semester.
By: | July 16, 2021
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The University of California system will not wait for the U.S. Food & Drug Administration’s full approval on COVID-19 vaccines and will require that students, faculty and staff get vaccinated before arriving on campuses this fall.

UC’s change of heart–it had imposed a mandate, but not until emergency use authorization was lifted–comes as the state of California and especially Los Angeles County contend with the fast-spreading and virulent Delta variant of SARS-COV2. Cases in the county alone have risen more than 80% over the past week. Though trials of the Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines have lasted several months, vaccine manufacturers indicated on Friday that approval from the FDA likely would not happen until January 2022.

That pause has left colleges and universities that have not installed mandates in a precarious position with only a month or so remaining before the academic year as most encourage populations to get vaccinated, rather than require it. Given the climate in California, UC decided it was time to move forward.

“Vaccination is by far the most effective way to prevent severe disease and death after exposure to the virus and to reduce the spread of the disease to those who are not able, or not yet eligible, to receive the vaccine,” President Michael Drake wrote in a letter to UC’s 10 chancellors.

UC relayed a strong, updated policy to its community that not only calls for vaccinations but includes mandatory mask-wearing and social distancing this fall. Although it is allowing for medical and religious exemptions, those who refuse to get vaccinated will not be allowed to participate in face-to-face learning or activities and may be barred from campus housing. UC officials say there will be far fewer remote-learning options in 2021-22. Students, staff and faculty must submit proof of vaccination two weeks before they arrive–for some campuses, that won’t be until September, while for others, it will be in August. The system has 10 campuses and 280,000 students.

Approximately 575 institutions have installed vaccine requirements, but the UC system is the largest to do so, followed by the State University of New York. The California State University system, the biggest in the nation with nearly a half-million students, is still weighing the potential to follow UC’s lead. It currently has a mandate in place, but only when full FDA approval is granted.