By Meghan Imperio
Many universities all over the country have already made the new COVID-19 vaccinations mandatory including Columbia, Yale, Princeton, along with over five dozen other universities. Recently, both the University of California (UC) and the California State University (Cal State) systems have announced that they may also join the dozens of other universities and make the vaccination a requirement for enrollment.
UC announced its plans to allow more in-person classes and campus activities starting Fall 2021 for the new school year. However, a part of ensuring that they will be able to welcome students back to campus is by strongly encouraging students, staff, and faculty to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, and possibly make it mandatory.
However, UC and Cal State have hesitated to make it a requirement just yet due to questions of whether or not it is legal to require vaccines that have not yet been formally approved by the FDA. Currently, the Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, and Johnson and Johnson vaccines have been distributed under an emergency authorization, with the distribution of the Johnson and Johnson vaccine just recently being resumed after pausing due to reports of rare blood clots.
According to the LA Times, much like their current exemption system for already-required vaccinations such as varicella, measles, and the recent influenza vaccine requirements, “The COVID-19 directive would allow for students or employees to seek an exemption based on medical or religious grounds.”
The article goes on to describe that less than 2% of UC students request vaccination exemptions for the current vaccination requirements.
Unlike UC and Cal State, the California Community Colleges will not be making a state-wide decision to require vaccinations but instead will leave the decision to each local district.
However, Eloy Ortiz, the chancellor of California Community Colleges encourages students and employees to get vaccinated in order to “speed a return to in-person instruction.”
The President of the UC system, President Michael V. Drake describes that making the vaccine mandatory for all students, faculty, and staff with certain exemptions is crucial in ensuring the safety of each individual and the community at large.
The UC press release which lays out this new policy states that “With an increasing number of people expected to return to UC locations, vaccination is essential for the safety and well-being of the community. Additionally, physical distancing, mask-wearing and frequent hand-washing and cleaning will continue to be crucial for daily campus life.”
Currently, the COVID-19 vaccinations are not required of students and employees of the two university systems but are strongly recommended and encouraged.
The two leaders of the UC and Cal State systems made this announcement in order to give students and employees time to get their vaccinations before the start of the school year and plan accordingly ensuring that everyone has the opportunity to receive the vaccine before it becomes mandatory at the start of the upcoming school year.
Further, this announcement was made in hopes that it would encourage other campuses to require mandatory vaccinations. So far, about 64 out of the 5,300 colleges and universities around the nation have announced that the coronavirus vaccination will be required for the upcoming school year. Four of these 64 colleges and universities are public schools.
According to the article, “Dr. Carrie Byington, a UC executive vice president who heads UC Health, said the university system—which includes six academic health centers and 10 campuses—sought to set a national model in announcing the vaccination policy.”
The article goes on to describe that “UC officials began working on the policy in October and concluded that vaccines were the most important tool to safely increase density on campuses, which have been virtually shut down for classes since March 2020. Their modeling indicated that outbreaks would still occur if less than 50% of students were vaccinated.”
Byington adds that even though the new COVID-19 vaccinations do not have the amount of evidence of efficacy, safety, and long-term effects as older vaccinations, the data from the hundreds of millions of vaccines given in the US only are good indications of the vaccines’ efficacy and safety.
If one of the three current COVID-19 vaccinations currently administered under an emergency use authorization receives full FDA approval by the start of the school year, UC and Cal State will likely add the 33 major universities of the school systems to the growing list of colleges and universities requiring the new vaccine for the upcoming school year, therefore sparking a movement of more colleges and universities to follow.
Meghan Imperio is a writer for the LA Vanguard’s social justice desk. She is an English major at UCLA, originally from Glendale, CA.
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