For more than a month, only one public university from a conservative-led state – Cleveland State University – has stood by the announcement that it was requiring students to get preventive COVID-19 vaccines.
Nova Southeastern University in Florida was forced to backtrack on its mandate in early May because of a state executive order banning “vaccine passports”.
But in a significant move late Friday, officials from the Indiana University system, which serves more than 90,000 students across nine campuses, said they will be requiring vaccination that includes faculty and staff. It is the first public university system from a red state to do so.
The reason? As with most higher education institutions who have made the decision, it said protecting its community is paramount, especially as it quests to fully reopen for business for the fall semester, which is only three months away.
“Since the pandemic began more than a year ago, one of our main goals has been to make it safer to be a part of the IU community than not,” said Michael McRobbie, President of Indiana University. “We continue to plan for an in-person fall 2021 semester and expect that we’ll return to mostly normal operations. Requiring the COVID-19 vaccine among our students, faculty and staff continues to extend the university’s comprehensive and thoughtful approach to managing and mitigating the pandemic on our campuses and brings us one step closer to making a ‘return to normal’ a reality.”
It is unclear whether the university’s move will spark backlash or reaction within the state, as happened in Florida. At least 19 states have banned so-called vaccine passports to effectively block publicly funded businesses, including universities, from requiring that their employees get vaccinated. Alabama became the latest to join the group on Monday. Among 16 of those red states, not one college or university has mandated COVID doses of its communities.
Many of those states – including Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Idaho and Wyoming – also have the fewest numbers of citizens vaccinated, according to a database kept by the New York Times. In Alabama, less than 29% of the population is fully vaccinated and less than 36% have received first doses. By contrast, Maryland, whose university system is requiring vaccines, has more than 45% of individuals fully vaccinated and 55% have gotten first doses.
More from UB: Complete state-by-state college mandatory vaccine list
However, there have been some private universities in those Republican states willing to go forward – for example, Duke University and Wake University in North Carolina; Vanderbilt University in Tennessee; Xavier University of New Orleans in Louisiana; and Paul Quinn College and St. Edward’s University in Texas. In Indiana, there are also a handful, including the University of Notre Dame and Valparaiso University.
Indiana takes strong position
While other colleges and universities, even those who have mandated vaccines, have taken a more encouraging approach in letting their populations know about processes for vaccination, Indiana was much more direct.
Students, faculty and staff must get first doses by July 1. They are expected to be fully vaccinated by Aug. 15 – or if they are required to be on campus sooner, to have doses completed before that date.
Those who have a medical or religious exemption must meet “a very narrow set of criteria” in order to be allowed back on campus. Those choosing not to be vaccinated will have “class registration canceled, CrimsonCard access terminated and access to IU systems such as Canvas and email terminated, and they will not be allowed to participate in any on-campus activity,” according to the university.
For faculty and staff, the penalty for not getting COVID doses is even more severe – they will be terminated. Employees also cannot use remote work as an option for not getting the vaccine.
Indiana University has continued to update its community on the safety and efficacy of the three vaccines – Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson – and trying to provide robust information for those who are hesitant. Today, it is hosting a webinar to answer questions about the mandate.
“The COVID-19 vaccines that are currently authorized by the FDA are extremely safe and effective,” said Dr. Lana Dbiedo, director of vaccine initiatives for IU’s Medical Response Team and assistant professor of infectious diseases in the IU School of Medicine. “There are very, very few medical reasons a person would not be able to receive this vaccine. The COVID-19 vaccine is available throughout the U.S., and now those 12 years old and above are eligible. I recommend, unless you have a medical contraindication, to schedule and get the vaccine as soon as you can — not only for yourself, but for those you love as well.”
Around 400 colleges and universities have announced vaccine requirements since they became available in in April. Most of them have been private universities, with the majority coming from liberal states. It is worth noting that many large public universities in several blue states also have not mandated vaccines but rather encouraged their communities to get them.
Indiana University, however, is one that joined these others big systems or large public universities that are from blue states:
- California State University and University of California (with FDA approval)
- Colorado State University (with FDA approval) and University of Colorado
- Oregon State University and University of Oregon
- Rutgers University
- State University and City University of New York
- University of Delaware and Delaware State University
- University of Hawaii (with FDA approval)
- University of Maryland
- University of Massachusetts
- University of Michigan
- University of Rhode Island
- University of Virginia
- University of Washington and Washington State University