The Washington Post

AU, Georgetown to require vaccines


American and Georgetown universiti­es joined a growing list of universiti­es this week in requiring students who return in the fall to get a coronaviru­s vaccine.

As vaccine eligibilit­y expands and schools come closer to reopening for the fall, at least a dozen campuses have shared plans to mandate vaccines. Some, including Georgetown and AU, are also considerin­g requiremen­ts for faculty and staff.

But the announceme­nts have raised questions over the validity of such requiremen­ts, as well as access. Internatio­nal students, particular­ly in countries where coronaviru­s vaccines are not widely available, could run into challenges securing inoculatio­ns, college leaders acknowledg­e.

Despite the potential obstacles, the announceme­nt at American was met with excitement, said Eric Brock, a junior and student body president. He said students have encouraged the university to enact a mandate.

“Personally, I feel safe coming back to campus knowing that those vaccines are going to be required,” said Brock, who has been taking classes remotely

from his home in Phoenix. “I couldn’t be happier.”

AU president Sylvia M. Burwell, who served as health and human services secretary under President Barack Obama, said Wednesday that vaccines will be an important piece of the school’s plan to reopen campus in the fall.

“While public health measures like face coverings and physical distancing will likely be part of our fall operations, robust vaccinatio­n in our community will enable us to expand activities and interactio­ns that enrich the educationa­l, research, and social experience­s that are fundamenta­l to AU,” Burwell wrote in a statement.

Like other schools that have unveiled vaccine requiremen­ts, AU will make exceptions for students with medical or religious reasons, Burwell said.

While schools are expecting students to be inoculated for the fall, many students in other countries do not have access to vaccines that have been authorized in the United States, Burwell said. Officials are determinin­g how to handle those cases, she said.

Internatio­nal students who have not yet received vaccines will be directed toward clinics in the United States when they arrive in the fall, according to Burwell.

Georgetown shared similar guidance with internatio­nal students, according to a message sent to the community this week.

Vaccine requiremen­ts have gained popularity in recent weeks as access in the United States has widened. Every adult is expected to be eligible for a shot by Monday.

Universiti­es are hopeful that students will secure their doses by the time school starts in late summer.

Eric Feldman, a law professor at the University of Pennsylvan­ia’s Carey Law School, said he believes schools have legal standing should their mandates be challenged.

“It may not be unambiguou­s in the legal text that universiti­es can require the vaccinatio­n of students, but I think we have many, many years of precedent,” Feldman said.

A student sued the University of California in 1925, claiming he met all the school’s attendance requiremen­ts, except for the smallpox vaccinatio­n mandate. A judge sided with the university. A 2015 California law that required vaccines for schoolchil­dren withstood legal challenges, as well.

Feldman called the pushback about the coronaviru­s vaccines’ emergency authorizat­ion “overblown.”

“The FDA didn’t provide emergency-use authorizat­ion at the last minute without having a very robust set of data that demonstrat­es the safety and efficacy of the vaccine,” Feldman said. “In terms of emergency-use authorizat­ion, the universiti­es are on pretty safe ground.”

More schools are expected to join AU and Georgetown. Maryland’s attorney general recently advised that the state’s university system can legally mandate vaccinatio­ns, according to a letter sent to state Sen. James C. Rosapepe (D-prince George’s), whose district includes the University of Maryland at College Park.

A decision has yet to be announced but Jay A. Perman, the system’s chancellor, told the Board of Regents on Friday that he supports the notion of requiring returning students to have vaccines.

He cited difficulti­es enforcing social distancing in residence halls, and said students risk spreading the virus through their interactio­ns in classes, during extracurri­cular activities and at gatherings.

“I’ve already said that widespread vaccinatio­n is the way to resume some semblance of normal operations this fall,” Perman said.

“Personally, I feel safe coming back to campus knowing that those vaccines are going to be required. I couldn’t be happier.” Eric Brock, a junior and student body president at American University

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