The number of colleges and universities that will require students be fully vaccinated against Covid-19 is suddenly escalating.
In just the last few days, Duke University, Brown, Northeastern University, the University of Notre Dame, Syracuse University and Ithaca College all announced that students returning to campus in the fall must be fully vaccinated before the first day of class.
Cornell University, Rutgers University, Nova Southeastern University, Roger Williams University in Bristol, Rhode Island, Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colorado, and St. Edward’s University in Austin, Texas, have also said vaccinations will be mandatory for the fall of 2021.
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Even more institutions are likely to follow, according to Lynn Pasquerella, president of the Association of American Colleges and Universities.
“Medical and religious exemptions will be accommodated, but the expectation will be that our campuses and classrooms will overwhelmingly consist of vaccinated individuals, greatly reducing the risk of infection for all,” Cornell President Martha Pollack and Provost Michael Kotlikoff said in a statement.
Across the country, campuses struggled to remain open over the last year as fraternities, sororities and off-campus parties drove sudden spikes in coronavirus cases among undergraduates. Meanwhile, students overwhelmingly declared remote school a mediocre substitute for being in the classroom.
As eligibility for Covid vaccines expands to people 16 years and older, schools must consider how a vaccine mandate can help higher education get back on track, Pasquerella said.
For those enrolled in school, there are many vaccination requirements already in place to prevent the spread of diseases such as polio, diphtheria, tetanus and whooping cough.
All 50 states have at least some vaccine mandates for children attending public schools and even those attending private schools and day-care centers. In every case, there are medical exemptions, and in some cases there are religious or philosophical exemptions, as well.
“Adding Covid-19 vaccination to our student immunization requirements will help provide a safer and more robust college experience for our students,” Rutgers President Jonathan Holloway said in a statement.
At Rutgers, students can also request an exemption from vaccination for medical or religious reasons and students enrolled in fully remote programs will not be required to be vaccinated.
And yet, vaccine hesitancy remains a powerful force among parents, in particular.
Only 58% of parents or caregivers said they would vaccinate their children against Covid, despite 70% of parents saying they would vaccinate themselves, according to a March poll by ParentsTogether, a national advocacy group.
Low-income and minority households were even less likely to vaccinate their children, ParentsTogether found.
Other studies have shown Black and Latino people to be more skeptical of the vaccines than the overall U.S. population due to historic mistreatment in medicine. Disparities along racial lines in vaccine distribution also have been observed in the U.S.
“Colleges do need to get ahead of this and think about how this is going to play out,” said Bethany Robertson, co-founder and co-director of ParentsTogether.
“We need to start the conversation with parents now, to build trust and understanding about how getting kids vaccinated against Covid-19 protects their health, their family’s health and the health of our communities,” Robertson said.
However, in addition to students, parents and community members, schools must also weigh the interests of the faculty, staff, legislators and boards of trustees, Pasquerella said.
“It’s complicated,” she said. “No matter what decision one makes, one group will ultimately be displeased.”