With students preparing to return to college campuses and in-person classes this fall, there is widespread confusion over the idea of requiring vaccines for students. Both public and private universities have seen a precipitous drop in student enrollment due to the coronavirus pandemic, but it is a new challenge to navigate how to keep their students and staff members safe at the tail end of the pandemic.
The majority of colleges and universities are holding fast to a vaccine requirement for students, though the vaccine passport idea may be more attractive from a safety standpoint. For example, some liberal activists and politicians floated the idea of requiring a so-called “vaccine passport” for Americans to travel. Civil rights and privacy activists oppose the idea because it is an invasion of privacy and could lead to civil rights-related repercussions in the workplace or in the community.
Harvard University, a private Ivy League institution, announced that it will have a “full return” to campus activities this fall and that it will require vaccinations for all students who will be on the university’s campus. It said, “Students should plan to be fully vaccinated before returning to campus for the fall semester, meaning that at least two weeks have passed since the final dose of an FDA-authorized or approved vaccine.” The university also said that it will require masks and social distancing indoors but not outdoors.
The University of California-Berkeley, a state-funded institution, said that it requires all campus attendees (students and staff) to “be immunized” when they return to campus in the fall. California is slower to re-open its economy under Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom, who is facing a recall election later this year over his imposition of coronavirus restrictions that he has not always followed himself.
It is different for the University of Texas-Austin, the flagship university in the Lone Star State, since the state rescinded its mask mandate. The university said that “vaccination is voluntary but encouraged” on a frequently-asked-questions page.
The University of Florida is also taking a position similar to the University of Texas, where it can promote the importance of getting vaccinated yet it cannot require it for students who will return to campus in the fall.
Indiana University, the Hoosier State’s flagship university in Bloomington, said it will keep its vaccine requirement in effect this upcoming semester. According to Inside Higher Ed, the university said it dropped the requirement that students and staff to provide proof of vaccination, such as uploading a photo of one’s vaccination card.
The university announced, “As part of the accelerated exemption process, those receiving the vaccine are no longer required to upload documentation.” The announcement added, “Instead, they can certify their status as part of a simple attestation form that will be available on June 2. Special incentives will be offered to those opting to upload documentation, as well. Details on the incentive program will be announced later this week.”
All signs about the university’s reversal point to the state’s attorney general, Todd Rokita, who said that Indiana University could not legally require people to submit proof of vaccination. Rokita, a Republican, was a former Indiana congressman elected attorney general in 2020