The fast approaching fall semester puts U.S. colleges under pressure to decide how far they need to go to protect their campuses from COVID-19 while navigating legal and policy issues and rising infection rates .
Hundreds of colleges across the country have told students in recent months that they need to be fully immunized against COVID-19 before classes start.
California State University, the nation’s largest four-year public university system, joined the list last week, along with Michigan State University and the University of Michigan. Their announcements raised concerns about the highly contagious delta variant and came as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released updated mask guidelines based on new research regarding its spread.
CSU Chancellor Joseph I. Castro called the increases in cases related to the variant a “new alarming factor that we must take into account as we seek to maintain the health and well-being of students, employees and visitors “.
Yet many other colleges have suspended immunization mandates due to limitations school leaders face in adopting security requirements for in-person classes.
In many Republican-led states, governments have banned vaccination warrants, or school leaders face political pressure to limit their anti-virus actions, even among students who live in crowded residences. Opponents say the demands infringe on individual freedoms.
Some campuses have avoided hindsight by offering incentives instead, such as sweepstakes for free classes and computers, as they seek to increase student immunization rates to 80% or more.
And a few have gone against their GOP-led states, such as Nova Southeastern in Florida, demanding that employees get vaccinated and Nebraska Wesleyan making the vaccination of its 2,000 students mandatory.
Private colleges like these have more legal leeway over coronavirus rules, experts say. Major private universities requiring student immunizations include Harvard, Yale, Notre Dame, Northwestern, Duke, and Stanford.
University of California law professor Dorit Rubinstein Reiss, who writes and teaches vaccine law, said the biggest legal gray area is whether colleges can require COVID-19 vaccines while they remain under federal emergency use status.
Courts will likely allow university leaders to take such steps to protect student health, but many colleges cannot avoid the reality of states taking a stand against vaccination warrants, Reiss said.
âEspecially a state university, going against mainstream political opinion is likely to be short-lived,â Reiss said.
The coronavirus policy has been a complicating factor for the vast majority of campuses without vaccine requirements, said Dr. Michael Huey, acting CEO of the American College Health Association, which in April recommended immunization mandates for all. students taking classes on campus.
“If you set up a situation where you cannot demand vaccination, you cannot request immunization status and you cannot have required testing or mitigation strategies, like masking, it cannot be safe, âsaid Huey, former executive director of student health services at Emory University in Atlanta.
Indiana University has so far prevailed against a legal challenge to its vaccine requirement for students, which school officials say is a “clear way forward” to removing the limits on students. in-person classes, sporting events and social activities.
Noah Hamilton, who will be in second year at Indiana’s main campus in Bloomington this fall, said he was afraid of getting the shot and likely wouldn’t have done it without the requirement.
âBut I don’t want to be stuck 100 percent online,â Hamilton said. “I want to be back on campus and try to have a normal college experience.”
Of the roughly 4,000 college campuses across the country, more than 600 have mandated vaccination, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education tracking. But their requirements vary.
The University of Washington and the University of Maryland, for example, are among the public schools requiring injections for students and employees. The University of Connecticut and the University of Maryland require the doses for students but not for faculty or staff.
In some cases, union contracts or state laws prevent schools from requiring staff members to be vaccinated.
Meanwhile, the University of California and California State University – California’s two main state systems, with more than 750,000 students in total – initially suspended inoculation requirements until that at least one COVID-19 vaccine has obtained full approval from the Food and Drug Administration. But both have now imposed gunfire on students and employees.
Religious and medical exemptions from vaccine requirements are commonly offered, although universities typically require these students to undergo frequent COVID-19 tests and wear masks in public spaces.
Opponents of the student vaccine requirements have gone to federal court challenging warrants issued by Indiana University, the University of Connecticut and the California state system.
In the first decision among those cases, a judge last month dismissed arguments from eight students that the Indiana University requirement violated their constitutional rights to “bodily autonomy” by forcing them to receive a unwanted medical treatment.
A Chicago court also dismissed the appeal of their attorney, James Bopp, who has been instrumental in many conservative political cases. Bopp is working with America’s Frontline Doctors, which criticizes the COVID-19 vaccine and has been widely discredited for spreading misinformation about the coronavirus and unproven treatments.
Bopp said hundreds of people across the country have contacted him to challenge the vaccination warrants. He argues that the students he represents, primarily young adults, are at low risk of serious illness from COVID-19 while facing the possible dangers of the vaccine administered under a federal emergency use authorization.
âWhy are they being targeted for a vaccine that older people are not required to take even though their risk is significantly higher? ” he said.
Indiana University says nearly 85% of its students said they received at least one dose. Purdue University, Indiana’s other Big Ten school, does not require vaccinations but tells students who do not submit documents that they could undergo weekly COVID-19 tests.
Purdue, who says at least 60% of students are vaccinated, tried to get students to get vaccinated with 10 raffles for a full year of schooling.
Many other schools offer similar incentives, such as the University of Wisconsin regional campuses which offer 70 scholarships of $ 7,000 to students vaccinated at sites with an immunization rate of at least 70%. The state of Missouri has a $ 150,000 program with awards that include free tuition, meal plans, and computers.
Face masks will also not disappear as much as expected on campuses this fall. Purdue and the University of South Carolina were among those who announced a return to required masks last week following new CDC guidelines that fully vaccinated people wear them indoors if they live in high-risk areas. viral transmission.
Rachel “Rae” Applegate, a new recruit from Notre Dame, was vaccinated this summer along with her 16-year-old sister and said she was hesitant because the vaccines are so new. She also feared a greater risk of exposure to COVID-19 on campus than at home in Evansville, Indiana.
âI can understand people’s concerns about not wanting to be told what to do, but to me that (getting the vaccine) makes sense,â Applegate said. “When we’re all together on a campus like thisâ¦ and with the variations and everything, it’s like we don’t all want to be as safe as possible?” “