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Can Colleges Require the COVID-19 Vaccine? | Margaret Le

As states announce plans to reopen and vaccines become more widely available, a certain topic has been appearing in the news lately: vaccine passports. This would be proof of one’s immunization against COVID-19 and could take in a physical form, like a vaccination card, or a digital form like a phone app. They could be used to gain entries to businesses or other establishments.

Supporters of vaccine passports say that it could be a way to return to normalcy. Whether it be on a plane or concert, these passports could make crowded places safer and give people peace of mind that others around them have been immunized as well. However, these passports are also controversial due to concerns about infringements on individual privacy and freedom. While New York became the first state to offer digital vaccine passports, government officials seem to have distanced themselves from the idea. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and Texas Governor Greg Abott issued executive orders that prohibit private businesses or government agencies, respectively, from requiring a vaccine for services. As seen with differing attitudes towards vaccinations, it was obvious that vaccine passports would not be a popular idea. Last week, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki stated the federal government would not be supporting vaccine passports.

However, what does this mean for colleges during the fall? Many colleges require immunization records, but will the COVID vaccine be a different story? Dorit Reiss, a law professor at UC Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco, explains that “most universities have the power to require vaccines,” but their past vaccine policies also play a role. Of course, private schools have an easier time implementing these policies while public ones have to abide by federal and state law, and other regulatory policies. So far, some schools have announced their vaccine requirement for next fall. Rutgers University is believed to be the first, followed by others including Brown and Cornell University, Duke University, and Cleveland State University. However, there are exemptions as federal law does require colleges to give accommodations to students who refuse the vaccine due to medical or religious reasons.

Even so, schools will largely continue their COVID-19 policies including masking, testing and social distancing.

Since some campuses have become vaccination sites, schools also began to get current students vaccinated, which would help control the spread through dorms and in person classes. As more students continue to get vaccinated, hopefully the class of 2020 and 2021 can get a taste of the true college experience.

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