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Can Colleges Require Covid-19 Vaccines?

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Can Colleges Require Covid-19 Vaccines?

Most U.S. colleges and universities already require on-campus students to show proof of vaccines for illnesses, like bacterial meningitis, that can spread rapidly in close quarters. But Covid-19 is a much more complicated story.

A growing number of schools will require proof of a coronavirus vaccination[1] for on-campus students this fall, including Cornell[2], Rutgers[3], Oakland University[4] in Michigan, Brown University[5] in Rhode Island and St. Edward’s[6] University in Texas. Other schools are not requiring vaccines but will offer incentives, such as an exemption from the campus mask mandate[7].

“Vaccines are our way of ensuring that we can be together for a normal fall semester,” Tom Stritikus, the president of Fort Lewis College in Colorado wrote in a letter to the school[8].

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Many more schools have yet to set a policy, or have explicitly said they would not require proof. And the issue of requiring vaccinations[9] is shaping up to be yet another political debate.

A day after Nova Southeastern University in Florida announced it would require vaccinations[10], Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, issued an executive order[11] banning businesses and government agencies from requiring vaccination documentation.

The university’s president and chief executive, George Hanbury, said the Fort Lauderdale-based school was caught off guard, but was reviewing the order. Some Florida counties are working feverishly[12] to inoculate college-age people.

In Ohio, where all adults became eligible for the vaccine last week, Gov. Mike DeWine, also a Republican, announced plans to hold on-campus vaccine clinics. Many colleges in the state have said the vaccines will, at least for now, be encouraged but not mandatory; Cleveland State has said that students living in its dorms next fall must be vaccinated[13].

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“While fewer of our young people get sick from Covid, the evidence clearly shows that they are significant carriers,” DeWine said.

Throughout the pandemic, college outbreaks have led to waves of infections in the surrounding communities. In December, a Times analysis[14] found that deaths in some counties where college students comprise at least 10 percent of the population had risen disproportionately fast. Few of the victims were students; they were mainly older people living and working in those communities.

Mayor Bill de Blasio announced this week that New York City’s schools will no longer have to shut temporarily[15] whenever two unrelated virus cases are detected.

Many parents with children in schools said that the rule disrupted learning and created an environment of daily uncertainty. Schools have closed multiple times, sometimes opening for just a few days at a time. In recent weeks, closures have accelerated as middle and high school students returned after months of all-remote learning.

Epidemiologists and medical experts told ProPublica[16] and the education news site Chalkbeat[17] that New York’s two-case rule was arbitrary and had led to unnecessary closures. They called on the mayor to adjust it. There has been very little virus transmission in the city’s classrooms since they reopened last fall.

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“The way to beat Covid is not by closing schools excessively, but by suppressing transmission both inside and outside of schools,” Dave A. Chokshi, the city’s health commissioner, said during a news conference on Monday.

Michael Mulgrew, president of the United Federation of Teachers, has strenuously opposed any changes to the rule for months. But he now has diminished leverage in the negotiations, in part because teachers have been eligible for a vaccine for nearly three months.

The mayor has not yet explained what new guidelines will replace the two-case rule. Our colleague Eliza Shapiro reported that negotiations about a replacement policy between the city’s teachers’ union and City Hall had stalled.

The city is also poised to change a rule it set over the summer that mandated six feet of distance between students in classrooms. Last month the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that elementary school students only need to be three feet apart[18].

The number of students across the country attending school in person has increased significantly in recent weeks. One reason: Governors from both political parties have decided to prod, or in some cases force[19], schools back in session.

In Ohio, DeWine offered school districts a deal: early access to vaccines for their staff members if they committed to opening classrooms by March 1.

In Washington, Gov. Jay Inslee banned fully virtual instruction starting in April.

In Massachusetts, Gov. Charlie Baker required most elementary schools to offer full-time in-person instruction by April 5, and most middle schools by April 28.

Democratic governors in Oregon, California, New Mexico and North Carolina, and Republicans in Arizona, Iowa, West Virginia and New Hampshire, have also gotten in on the action.

“Obviously, we like community and local control,” Inslee said, “but it wasn’t cutting the mustard here ultimately.”

  • Nearly 80 percent of teachers[28] and school employees in the U.S. have received at least one vaccine dose, the C.D.C. said.

  • New York City announced this week that parents would have to opt in[29] if they want their children to take state reading and math exams this year.

  • Gov. J.B. Pritzker of Illinois signed a bill[30] that restores the Chicago Teachers Union’s ability to bargain with the city over a range of issues, potentially complicating ongoing negotiations over how to open high schools.

  • Several school districts in Michigan, including Detroit, are reverting to remote learning[31] temporarily as the state battles a surge of infections.

  • The San Francisco school board reversed[32] its January decision to rename 44 schools that honor historical figures such as Jefferson, Lincoln and Washington after an outcry from parents and the mayor.

  • Elizabeth Davis, the president of the Washington Teachers Union in the District of Columbia, was killed[33] in a car crash on Sunday.

  • Students who planned attacks on schools were often badly bullied, suffered from depression, had stress at home and exhibited worrying behavior, according to a study[34] by the Secret Service’s National Threat Assessment Center.

  • A good read from The New Yorker: Isaac Chotiner pressed[35] Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, on her criticism of the recent guidance from the C.D.C. on three feet versus six feet.

Youth sports are ramping up in many parts of the country. But without a vaccine for children, we still need to avoid spreading the coronavirus.

Jenny Marder broke it down[36]. Here are a few key points.

  • Maintain distancing and wear masks when six feet isn’t possible. Disinfect equipment and prioritize conditioning and drills over contact activity.

  • The safety measures that teams are taking vary widely. Assess local transmission rates along with the protocols. While you do, consider the risk to society, including kids with compromised immunity.

  • Reschedule practices for larger indoor or outdoor spaces.

Most important, the founding director of a girls’ soccer club said, find a way to safely “help them have some joy.”

Email your thoughts to [email protected][37].

Was this email forwarded to you? Sign up here[38].


  1. ^ require proof of a coronavirus vaccination (www.nytimes.com)
  2. ^ Cornell (statements.cornell.edu)
  3. ^ Rutgers (www.nytimes.com)
  4. ^ Oakland University (www.clickondetroit.com)
  5. ^ Brown University (twitter.com)
  6. ^ St. Edward’s (www.stedwards.edu)
  7. ^ an exemption from the campus mask mandate (dickinsonstatenews.com)
  8. ^ letter to the school (www.fortlewis.edu)
  9. ^ the issue of requiring vaccinations (www.nytimes.com)
  10. ^ require vaccinations (news.nova.edu)
  11. ^ issued an executive order (www.nytimes.com)
  12. ^ working feverishly (www.clickorlando.com)
  13. ^ must be vaccinated (www.cleveland.com)
  14. ^ a Times analysis (www.nytimes.com)
  15. ^ no longer have to shut temporarily (www.nytimes.com)
  16. ^ ProPublica (www.propublica.org)
  17. ^ Chalkbeat (ny.chalkbeat.org)
  18. ^ three feet apart (www.nytimes.com)
  19. ^ decided to prod, or in some cases force (www.nytimes.com)
  20. ^ Wayne State University (www.detroitnews.com)
  21. ^ University of Connecticut (www.nbcnews.com)
  22. ^ Bates College (www.sunjournal.com)
  23. ^ walked back (www.washingtonpost.com)
  24. ^ overdue balances (www.wgbh.org)
  25. ^ the chemistry of marijuana (www.wxyz.com)
  26. ^ $ 500 million (apnews.com)
  27. ^ they’re struggling (www.nytimes.com)
  28. ^ 80 percent of teachers (nl.nytimes.com)
  29. ^ parents would have to opt in (ny.chalkbeat.org)
  30. ^ signed a bill (news.wttw.com)
  31. ^ reverting to remote learning (www.bridgemi.com)
  32. ^ reversed (www.nytimes.com)
  33. ^ killed (www.washingtonpost.com)
  34. ^ a study (apnews.com)
  35. ^ pressed (www.newyorker.com)
  36. ^ broke it down (www.nytimes.com)
  37. ^ [email protected] (www.nytimes.com)
  38. ^ Sign up here (www.nytimes.com)

Amelia Nierenberg and Kate Taylor

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Can Colleges Require Covid-19 Vaccines?
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