The list of universities requiring vaccinations to return to campus in the fall is growing longer by the day.
Why it matters: With the mandates, universities are going where most corporations have not. The political and legal blowback is already taking shape.
- The requirements will help ensure a full return to normal, which has huge financial upside for the colleges — and the workers and businesses that depend on them — that were pummeled during the pandemic year.
What they’re saying: “If you’re a residential college, some of those have taken big hits because they have dormitories to maintain and they haven’t collected any revenue from them,” Sandy Baum, a nonresident senior fellow at the Urban Institute, tells Axios.
- New Jersey-based public university Rutgers was among the first to announce it would require shots for students, though not for faculty and staff.
- Rutgers says “data clearly reflects that students have a 60% to 70% higher positivity rate than faculty and staff. This is to be expected since they are highly mobile and highly interactive,” per a statement.
Another caveat: Universities say students with religious or medical reasons can be exempt — a process that may be a logistical and legal nightmare, education trade group American Council on Education warns.
- “Legally and respectfully” managing these requests “will require administrative attention and risk vocal challenges … likely amplified on social media,” the group says in a recent brief.
- Even if mandates ultimately become permissible in schools and workplaces, policymakers will likely consider whether mandates are “the most effective means in accomplishing this goal” of mass vaccinations, a Wednesday policy brief from the Kaiser Family Foundation says.
Background: Colleges have historically required vaccines for other viruses.
The big picture: Other universities are encouraging students to get vaccinated, even with incentives, but have stopped short of a mandate, saying there is an equity benefit to not excluding all those who can’t or decide not to receive a shot.
- Arizona University has been vocal in having maintained a low positivity rate of 0.31% and will not mandate student vaccinations.
- University of Florida partnered with the state to secure mass vaccination plans for any student who wants one.
Some lawmakers are pushing back on mandates overall, including for schools.
- Some states are considering legislation that would prohibit entities like schools and private businesses from conditioning attendance or services on receipt of the COVID-19 vaccine, per KFF.
- One New Jersey assemblywoman plans to introduce legislation to prevent Rutgers from mandating students to getting the vaccine by the fall, Patch reports.
The next flashpoint: How students will prove they are vaccinated as “vaccine passports” stir up political feuds.
- States like Texas and Florida are banning them — with potential implications for colleges based there. NIAID’s Anthony Fauci said this week the federal government won’t mandate vaccine passports.
- Florida-based Nova Southeastern — which has a vaccination center onsite — tells Axios it’s still figuring out a verification system for people inoculated elsewhere.
- Northeastern says an announcement on how students will prove their status is coming soon.
- Cornell has set up a “proof of vaccination” portal.