Jab rules resisted at colleges
Moves to keep out the unvaccinated highlight divisions on US campuses
Hundreds of colleges and universities across the United States are requiring students to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 before returning to campuses in the fall. But they are facing resistance to the policy from lawmakers and some students.
The Chronicle of Higher Education, which is tracking the issue, reports that, as of Monday, 586 schools have set the vaccination requirement for the fall semester.
They include all Ivy League colleges, public university systems in Maryland and New York, and most of the institutions in lists of the top 50 national universities and liberal arts colleges put out by US News & World Report. Some mandates apply only to students in campus housing, according to The Washington Post.
Among the first to tackle the constitutionality of COVID-19 vaccine requirements at public universities, a federal judge has ruled that Indiana University — a public school with 100,000 students — may require its students to submit proof of COVID-19 vaccination before returning to campus this fall.
On Sunday, US District Judge Damon R. Leichty said the university system acted reasonably to protect public health when it required all its students, faculty and staff to be fully vaccinated by July 1, with limited medical and religious exceptions.
The judge denied an injunction sought by eight college and graduate students who claimed the university’s vaccine policy unconstitutionally infringes on their bodily autonomy and medical privacy.
The University of California announced on Thursday that COVID-19 vaccinations will be required for students, faculties and others before the fall term begins, becoming the nation’s largest public university system to mandate the vaccines.
As the highly contagious Delta variant spreads amid lower vaccination rates among younger people, unvaccinated students without approved exemptions will be barred from in-person classes, events and campus facilities, including housing — and not all classes will be offered online, a University of California memo outlining the mandate said. Physical distancing and mask wearing are expected to continue.
The debate over whether schools should require students to get fully vaccinated against COVID-19 has raged across higher education institutions nationwide, as campuses take different stands on legal issues and some students have filed lawsuits over them.
Anti-vaccine activists have focused on public institutions, which are bound by constitutional restraints as government entities, and have brought lawsuits under the 14th Amendment and its protection of fundamental liberties.
The University of Connecticut and California State University systems are facing similar lawsuits, with rulings pending from federal judges.
Most universities won’t require students to submit a copy of an official vaccination card as proof, which could make vaccination policies difficult to enforce, public health expert Christopher Murray, director of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, told NBC News.
The American Council on Education,
which represents more than 1,700 colleges and universities, issued a brief in March saying that courts would likely uphold the right of institutions to mandate vaccinations in line with existing flu vaccination requirements.
The American College Health Association also advises all colleges and universities to implement vaccination mandates for students and staff, but the logistics are proving to be complicated.
Bans blocking schools and colleges from requiring vaccination or proof of vaccination have passed in at least eight states: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Montana, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Utah. In some cases, the bans extend to other public entities and private businesses.
Questions remain over whether public educational institutions have the legal right to mandate inoculations with vaccines that haven’t received full deferral approval, and it is unclear when the shots will be fully approved by the US Food and Drug Administration, or FDA.
A bill signed into law on July 14 by Ohio Governor Mike DeWine says public schools and colleges in Ohio would be prohibited from requiring students to be vaccinated without the full approval of the vaccines by the FDA.