Universities across the country make announcements requiring student COVID-19 vaccinations

Photo by Mohammad Shahhosseini via Unsplash

By Sonia Rubeck
Boston University News Service

In an effort to return to pre-pandemic life, more than a dozen universities across the country will require students to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 before returning to campus in the fall. 

Universities including Rutgers University, Northeastern University, Boston University and the University of Notre Dame recently announced the requirement to achieve herd immunity on campus and relax in-person restrictions in classrooms and dorms. 

Rutgers in New Jersey was the first major university to announce a COVID-19 vaccine requirement. Northeastern University was the first in Boston to announce its vaccine requirement on April 6, followed by Boston University three days later.

“Our goal is to move to a ‘new normal’ in the fall that includes only minimal social distancing, where all our facilities are open, students can move freely between residences, and guests are welcome,” Boston University President Robert A. Brown said in a message to the campus community on April 9. “The key to achieving this state will be vaccination of nearly everyone in our community, especially our students.”

Several universities said they would offer documented medical or religious exemptions when applicable.

By April 19, people over the age of 16 will be eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine in all states. Individuals can pre-register for appointments through Massachusetts.  

It is common for colleges to require vaccinations against infectious diseases before students can arrive on campus. Most schools mandate student immunizations against measles, mumps, rubella, meningitis and hepatitis B. 

Complications may arise for international students who receive a vaccine that has not been subject to the US Food and Drug Administration’s approval, like the AstraZeneca vaccine circulating in the U.K. or CanSino vaccine that is being distributed in parts of China.

Some schools have announced that they will provide access to the vaccine for students unable to receive it off campus. Several schools have promised to update their protocols in the coming months. 

“Additional information on these policies will be sent around when it’s ready to be shared,” a Northeastern University representative said in an email. 

Additionally, there is some dispute over the legality of requiring students to get the COVID-19 vaccine since it is being offered under the FDA’s Emergency Use Authorization. While there are no federal laws that explicitly permit or prohibit vaccination mandates, most colleges and universities require regular COVID-19 testing, which is authorized under the same FDA emergency clearance that the vaccine is under. 

Smaller universities in the tri-state area have yet to announce requirements for student vaccines. While larger schools like BU and Northeastern have their own independent testing facilities on campus, smaller schools like Emerson College use partnerships with hospitals and larger institutions to test students regularly. 

The spread of COVID-19 has affected nearly all residential university and college campuses. Outbreaks occurred when schools reopened their campuses last fall. While COVID-19 risks are higher for older adults, college towns showed surges in infections that spread to older adults in surrounding neighborhoods. 

Northeastern sent home 11 first-year students in September for violating social distancing and face mask policies. Per university rules, the students were not refunded their tuition. 

Vaccine requirements in universities seek to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 by young adults who.

While some schools require students to return to campus fully vaccinated in the fall, others are strongly encouraging students to receive the vaccine through incentives. For instance, some universities are considering mask mandate exemptions if students are vaccinated.

More universities have promised to release policies on vaccine requirements or incentives in the coming months. The likelihood of full approval for COVID-19 vaccinations by the FDA increases and vaccines become more widely accessible to students across the country.

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