The Oneida Daily Dispatch (Oneida, NY)

Pushback challenges vaccinatio­n requiremen­ts at US colleges


INDIANAPOL­IS (AP) — The quickly approachin­g fall semester has America’s colleges under pressure to decide how far they should go to guard their campuses against COVID-19 while navigating legal and political questions and rising infection rates.

Hundreds of colleges nationwide have told students in recent months they must be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 before classes begin.

California State University, the country’s largest four-year public university system, joined the list last week, along with Michigan State University and the University of Michigan. Their announceme­nts cited concerns about the highly contagious delta variant and came as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued updated mask guidelines based on new research regarding its spread.

CSU Chancellor Joseph I. Castro called case surges linked to the variant an “alarming new factor that we must consider as we look to maintain the health and well-being of students, employees and visitors.”

Yet many more colleges have held off on vaccine mandates in a reflection of the limits school leaders face in adopting safety requiremen­ts for in-person classes.

In many Republican-led states, government­s have banned vaccine mandates, or school leaders face political pressure to limit their antivirus actions even among students who live in packed residence halls. Opponents say the requiremen­ts tread on personal freedoms.

Some campuses have sidesteppe­d pushback by instead offering enticement­s, such as prize drawings for free tuition and computers, as they seek to boost student vaccinatio­n rates to 80% or higher.

And a few have gone against the grain of their Gop-led states, such as Nova Southeaste­rn in Florida requiring employees to get the shots and Nebraska Wesleyan mandating vaccinatio­ns for its 2,000 students.

Private colleges like these have more legal leeway regarding coronaviru­s rules, experts say. Prominent private universiti­es mandating student vaccinatio­ns include Harvard, Yale, Notre Dame, Northweste­rn, Duke and Stanford.

University of California law professor Dorit Rubinstein Reiss, who writes and teaches about vaccine law, said the biggest legal gray area is whether colleges can require the COVID-19 vaccines while they remain under federal emergency use status.

Courts will likely allow university leaders to take such steps to protect student health, but many colleges can’t avoid the reality of states taking a stance against vaccine mandates, Reiss said.

“Especially a state university, going against the prevailing political view is probably going to be short-lived,” Reiss said.

Coronaviru­s politics have been a complicati­ng factor for the vast majority of campuses without vaccine requiremen­ts, said Dr. Michael Huey, interim CEO of the American College Health Associatio­n, which in April recommende­d vaccinatio­n mandates for all students taking on-campus classes.

“If you set up a situation where you can’t require vaccinatio­n, you can’t ask about vaccine status and you can’t have required testing or mitigation strategies, like masking, it can’t be safe,” said Huey, former executive director of student health services at Emory University in Atlanta.

Indiana University has so far prevailed against a court challenge to its student vaccine requiremen­t, which school officials say is a “clear path forward” to removing limits on in-person classes, sporting events and social activities.

Noah Hamilton, who’ll be a sophomore at Indiana’s main campus in Bloomingto­n this fall, said he had anxiety about getting the shots and likely wouldn’t have done so without the requiremen­t.

“But I don’t want to be stuck doing 100 percent online,” Hamilton said. “I want to be back on campus and actually trying to have a normal college experience.”

Among the some 4,000 college campuses across the country, more than 600 have imposed a vaccine mandate, according to tracking by the Chronicle of Higher Education. But their requiremen­ts vary.

The University of Washington and the University of Maryland, for example, are among the public schools mandating shots for both students and employees. The University of Connecticu­t and the University of Maryland require the doses for students but not faculty or staff.

In some cases, union contracts or state laws prevent schools from requiring staff member vaccinatio­ns.

Meanwhile, the University of California and California State University — California’s two major state systems, with more than 750,000 total students — initially were holding off on inoculatio­n requiremen­ts until at least one COVID-19 vaccine had full Food and Drug Administra­tion approval. But both have now mandated shots for students and employees.

Religious and medical exemptions from vaccine requiremen­ts are commonly offered, although the universiti­es are generally making those students undergo frequent COVID-19 testing and wear masks in public areas.

Opponents of student vaccine requiremen­ts have gone to federal court challengin­g mandates issued by Indiana University, the University of Connecticu­t and the California State system.

In the first ruling among those cases, a judge last month rejected arguments from eight students that Indiana University’s requiremen­t violated their constituti­onal rights to “bodily autonomy” by forcing them to receive unwanted medical treatment.

A court in Chicago also denied an appeal from their attorney, James Bopp, who’s been prominent in many conservati­ve political causes. Bopp works with the group America’s Frontline Doctors, which criticizes the COVID-19 vaccine and has been widely discredite­d for spreading disinforma­tion about the coronaviru­s and unproven treatments.

Bopp said hundreds of people across the country have contacted him wanting to challenge vaccine mandates. He argues the students he represents, primarily young adults, are at low risk of severe COVID-19 illnesses while facing possible dangers from the vaccine being administer­ed under federal emergency use authorizat­ion.

“Why are they being targeted for a vaccine that older people aren’t required to take even though their risk is enormously greater?” he said.

Indiana University says nearly 85% of its students have reported receiving at least one dose. Purdue University, Indiana’s other Big Ten school, isn’t requiring vaccinatio­ns but is telling students who don’t submit documentat­ion that they could face weekly COVID-19 tests.

Purdue, which says at least 60% of students are vaccinated, tried to entice students to get the shots with 10 prize drawings for a full year’s tuition.

Many other schools are offering similar incentives, such as the University of Wisconsin’s regional campuses giving away 70 $7,000 scholarshi­ps to vaccinated students at sites with at least 70% vaccinatio­n rates. Missouri State has a $150,000 program with prizes that include free tuition, meal plans and computers.

Face masks won’t fade away as much as hoped on campuses this fall, either. Purdue and the University of South Carolina were among those in the past week to announce a return to required masks following the new CDC guidance that fully vaccinated people wear them indoors if they live in areas with high virus transmissi­on rates.

Rachel “Rae” Applegate, an incoming Notre Dame freshman, was vaccinated this summer with her 16-year-old sister and said she was hesitant because the vaccines are so new. She also feared a greater risk of COVID-19 exposure on campus than at home in Evansville, Indiana.

“I can understand people’s concerns about not wanting to be told what to do, but to me, this (getting vaccinated) just makes sense,” Applegate said. “When we’re all together on a campus like this … and with the variants and everything else, it’s like, don’t we all want to be as safe as possible?”

 ?? AP PHOTO/ROGELIO V. SOLIS, FILE ?? FILE — In this July 27, 2021file photo, social distancing as well as face covering is recommende­d at the COVID-19 vaccinatio­n site in the Rose E. Mccoy Auditorium on the Jackson State University campus in Jackson, Miss. Hundreds of colleges nationwide have told students they must be fully vaccinated against Covid-19before classes begin in a matter of weeks.
AP PHOTO/ROGELIO V. SOLIS, FILE FILE — In this July 27, 2021file photo, social distancing as well as face covering is recommende­d at the COVID-19 vaccinatio­n site in the Rose E. Mccoy Auditorium on the Jackson State University campus in Jackson, Miss. Hundreds of colleges nationwide have told students they must be fully vaccinated against Covid-19before classes begin in a matter of weeks.

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