With the latest announcements from the State University of New York and the City University of New York, hundreds of thousands of students will now be required to get the Covid-19 vaccine.
On Monday, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said the SUNY and CUNY boards will require proof of vaccination for all students attending in-person classes this fall, and he encouraged all private universities and colleges to adopt the same guidelines. Already, Ithaca College and Cornell University have said vaccinations will be mandatory.
“The state’s new vaccination requirement — contingent on full FDA approval — will be another step in restoring normal campus activity this fall,” said SUNY Chancellor Jim Malatras, in a statement.
Across the country, a growing number of other colleges and universities have also said vaccinations will be mandatory for the fall of 2021, including California State University and the University of California, which impacts more than 1 million people.
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They join a host of other schools that have made similar announcements, including Yale University, Georgetown University, Stanford University, Wesleyan University, Grinnell College, Bowdoin College, George Washington University, American University, Emory University, Duke University; Brown University; Northeastern University, the University of Notre Dame; Syracuse University, Rutgers University, Morehouse College, Spelman College, DePaul University, Vassar College and Fairleigh Dickinson University.
Even more institutions are likely to follow, according to Lynn Pasquerella, president of the Association of American Colleges and Universities.
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 poor substitute for being in the classroom.
As eligibility and access for Covid vaccines expands, 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 instances, 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.
In most cases, students can request an exemption from vaccination for medical or religious reasons and students enrolled in fully remote programs will not be required to be vaccinated.
Still, 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.”