If You Haven't Gotten This Vaccine, You May Be Banned From Your University
Some schools are implementing new requirements ahead of the spring semester.
All U.S. adults became eligible to get COVID vaccines in late April, and since then, many changes have taken place in the country's fight against the virus. Numerous state and city officials, alongside major businesses, issued vaccine mandates over the summer to combat the low vaccination rates amid the fast-spreading Delta variant. And now that a new variant is spreading throughout the U.S., existing mandates are being broadened. New York City just announced that it is expanding its requirement for indoor dining and entertainment to include children now eligible for vaccination, as well as introducing a new mandate onto private sectors for adult workers. At the same time, many higher education institutions in the U.S., who were some of the earliest proponents of mandating COVID vaccinations this year, are taking requirements a step further.
Several major universities have announced that they are now requiring students to get a COVID booster shot in order to come back to campus next year, according to University Business. On Dec. 6, Syracuse University said that they would be amending their vaccine mandate to include this additional dose.
According to the university, students, faculty, and staff who are eligible for a booster must get theirs prior to the start of the spring semester in order to routinely access any Syracuse University campus location or facility. Those who are still not eligible must get their shot as soon as they become eligible, which would be six months after their second dose of Pfizer or Moderna or two months after a dose of Johnson & Johnson.
"In April of 2020, Syracuse University was among the first U.S. academic institutions to announce a vaccination requirement for our residential campus community," J. Michael Haynie, the university's vice chancellor for strategic initiatives and innovation, said in an announcement to students, families, faculty, and staff. "That proactive decision proved central to our ability to safely resume campus activities, events and student services throughout the fall semester."
The University of Notre Dame also announced an extension of its existing COVID vaccination requirement on Dec. 6. According to a statement from the university, the booster will be required for all students by the mid-spring semester to allow "ample time for students to receive the booster dose and upload documentation," but an official date has not yet been set.
After announcing its first vaccine mandate in April, Notre Dame was able to relax other COVID precautions like masks requirements for students and staff, as reported by the South Bend Tribune. The newspaper also said that as a result of that mandate, the university went from reporting dozens of cases each day in 2020 to just dozens of new cases each week in 2021.
"As you know, a high rate of vaccination is critical in our fight against COVID-19, and the benefits of a uniformly, highly-vaccinated community have been realized on our campus with extremely low case rates and low test-positivity among those who receive regular surveillance testing this academic year," Notre Dame said in its announcement, adding that a booster shot will continue to help "minimize [the] community's experience with coronavirus."
Other universities that have announced booster mandates include the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, Wesleyan University, and Smith College, according to University Business and Inside Higher Education.
"There's no good reason to hesitate [requiring boosters]," Michael Roth, the president of Wesleyan University, told NPR. Wesleyan was one of the first universities to issue a booster mandate. "Some people don't like to be first," he added. "But in this case, being first for public health doesn't seem to be a particularly risky place to be."
Meanwhile, Duke University and Rutgers are among the universities simply encouraging students and staff to get their additional dose instead of requiring it, despite having vaccine mandates in place. "We have no impending plans to require boosters for any community member," Rutgers said in a statement to NPR, even though it has been widely citied as the first U.S. university to require COVID vaccinations earlier this year.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has not yet amended its definition of "fully vaccinated" to include the booster. "The definition of fully vaccinated has not changed," CDC Director Rochelle Walensky, MD, said during a Nov. 30 White House COVID Response Team press briefing. "We are absolutely encouraging those who are eligible for a boost six months after those mRNA doses to get your boost. But we are not changing the definition of fully vaccinated right now."
But White House COVID adviser Anthony Fauci, MD, previously said that the idea of adding boosters to the definition was something that is being considered. "We'd like to get as many people who were originally vaccinated with the first regimen boosted," Fauci told Reuters. "Right now, officially, fully vaccinated equals two shots of the mRNA and one shot of the J&J, but without a doubt that could change. That's on the table for discussion."