As the fall semester begins, thousands of students will return to campuses that have taken the unusual step of abandoning their Covid-19 vaccination mandate.
Their reasoning still reflects the difficult realities of a policy once seen as critical to “returning normalcy” on college campuses. While few colleges have gone so far as to rescind existing mandates, the changed rules are part of a trend toward more relaxed Covid-19 protocols. throughout higher education. And they reflect a country going back to normal with fewer vaccine mandates, not more.
For some colleges, changes in state law and policy forced it.
Grinnell College was the only college in Iowa to require students to be immunized against Covid-19 when state lawmakers passed laws banning such requirements at all licensed child care centers and public and private schools and colleges until 2029. Now said Ellen de Graffenreid. , Grinnell’s vice president of communications and marketing: “We’re doing the best we can with the environment we have.” For example, according to him, there are high-quality masks required indoors during the first two weeks of the fall semester, recognizing that students can become infected while traveling on campus.
When Glenn Youngkin became governor of Virginia in January, he signed an executive order ending vaccination mandates for state employees, including those at public colleges. The vaccination requirement was “harmful to their personal liberties and personal privacy.” the executive order reads. Weeks later, another newly elected Republican, Attorney General Jason Miyares, issued a legal opinion arguing that public colleges also cannot force their students to get vaccinated against Covid. In response, George Mason University, the University of Virginia, and Virginia Tech, among otherscompleted their claims.
Other colleges dropped their mandates of their own volition, without legal pressure. They pointed to other obstacles.
Salt Lake Community College leaders decided to end the claim on their campus in April hospitalizations and deaths In January 2022, COVID-19 infections in the surrounding county had fallen sharply from all-time highs. Administration of the claim had been difficult, especially with exceptions, required by state law, to accommodate medical needs and personal beliefs, said Charles W. Lepper, vice president for student affairs. In addition, managers noticed after a while that the vaccination rate of students and staff had dropped. The mandate, with its generous exemptions, didn’t force more people to shoot because the mandate did often can.
At first glance, the University of Hawaii system may be a surprising entry on the list of colleges that are voluntarily abandoning their mandates. Hawaii is one more vaccinated countries and maintained strict vaccine or test requirements for visitors until March 2022. However, when it was revoked, the mandate of the university system was also lost.
Leaders feared the old vaccine policy was preventing lower-income and underrepresented minority students from enrolling. The system doesn’t have hard data on this, said Lee Buenconsejo-Lum, dean of the Manoa campus medical school and adviser to the Manoa president on Covid policy, but “campuses in communities with lower vaccination rates were the ones most concerned about vaccine mandates exacerbating inequality.
He said the system, which has 10 campuses including universities and community colleges, is open to reinstating the Covid vaccine mandate in the future. “If there’s a big shift and people get sick enough to end up in the hospital and/or we see the death rate go up again, then yes, we would consider it.”
Kent State University, University of Cincinnati, Utah State Universityand non-residential campuses University System of Maryland there are other examples of institutions ending mandates without being legally required to do so. In July, Hudson Valley Community College President Roger A. Ramsammy tried to quit after being told that the student body thought it was fundamentally unfair that students were required to be vaccinated while staff were not. Ramsammy announced that students would not be required to be vaccinated until the fall, after which the State University of New York stepped in, saying that SUNY’s Hudson Valley campus must adhere to the system’s student mandate.
Public health experts had mixed opinions about the potential effects of repealing the Covid vaccine mandate. Rebecca L. Smith, an epidemiologist at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, which still has the vaccine mandate, said it’s possible that repealing the mandate might not make too much of a difference in the broader community. Vaccines still protects people from getting sick and dying from Covid-19. But since the latest sub-variants of the Omicron variant are very effective when infecting vaccinated and boosted people, it is currently unclear how much one person’s vaccine protects others.
However, he was pleased that UIUC retained its mandate. “I know the vaccine will protect people, and even if it’s not effective at the community level, I want to see people protected,” he said.
Future Omicron booster shots, which will be released next month, are also not a sure bet, Smith said, as they have so far only been tested in mice using an accelerated process similar to that used for annual flu shots. (New flu variants also evolve too quickly for extensive human testing.) “We know it’s safe,” Smith said. “We have the hope that they will be more effective in preventing infections, but that is not certain, because of course mice are not people.” He said that in a community where vaccine resistance is high, it is “understandable” that the uncertain benefits to the community may not be sufficient to justify the claim.
Georges C. Benjamin, a physician and executive director of the American Public Health Association, said the community benefits of Covid vaccines are still worthwhile. The coronavirus continues to evolve, and all it takes is a new variant to cause an outbreak in a college or college town. “So, you know, the question is, what level of outbreak is this?” he said. It may be mild if the “vast majority” of people are immunized. Or, without comprehensive immune protection, it could be worse.