Several schools have made vaccination a requirement, while others are questioning the legality of such a move
Colleges in the US that hope to return to normalcy next fall are contemplating on urging students to get the COVID-19 vaccine.
Universities such as Brown, Cornell, Rutgers and Northeastern, in the hope to achieve herd immunity and reduce spacing restrictions, have asked students to come vaccinated to campus next fall. However, some institutes such as Virginia Tech are allowing students to decide as the US Food and Drug Administration has only allowed emergency use of the vaccines.
Several schools have launched vaccination blitzes to get students immunised before they leave for the summer, and many schools have made it an added requirement to build confidence in student-faculty safety on campus.
Schools like Northeastern that have made vaccination mandatory believe that they are on solid legal ground, as colleges often require students to be vaccinated for other diseases, with a California court upholding a flu shot requirement at the University of California last year. However, legal scholars believe that the COVID-19 vaccine’s emergency use status makes it a grey area. Harvard Law professor Glenn Cohen said that there is no legal reason to not allow colleges to require COVID-19 vaccinations despite their approval status, as many colleges already require students to take COVID-19 tests that are approved under the same FDA emergency authorisation.
States taking a stance against vaccination requirements could have big clashes. Florida governor Ron DeSantis banned all businesses from requiring customers for vaccination proof this month, raising questions over Nova Southeastern University’s plans to get students and staff vaccinated. The question of getting faculty and staff vaccinated is another paramount one, with University of Notre Dame keeping shots optional for work but mandatory for students. Northeastern is also considering this aspect.
Brown’s president Christina Paxson sent a letter to students last week, stating that students who forgo shots and have no valid exemption must file a petition to study remotely or take a leave of absence till next fall. Moreover, there is uncertainty around a widely accepted vaccine credential. Cornell asked students to provide the card given at vaccination sites, but card formats vary and seem to be easy to forge. Northeastern is contemplating whether to ask students for a medical record of vaccination, or to allow attestation and essentially take their word for it.
The question of international students is also a looming one, as many come from countries where they may not have access to vaccines, or have vaccines that are not used in the US. Some colleges plan to make shots available for them upon arrival.