Rutgers University recently announced that, with a few exceptions, it will require students attending classes for the 2021-22 school year to have a COVID-19 vaccination.
The university cited the availability of multiple vaccines, the proven safety and effectiveness of those vaccines, and the “shared responsibility” of each member of the university community for the health and safety of the community in its decision.
Since the Rutgers announcement, a growing number of schools have followed suit, saying that vaccinations will be mandatory for students before returning to campus in the fall.
Local colleges and universities, too, are considering whether or not to enforce a vaccination mandate.
The state Department of Education says there is nothing that restricts private post-secondary institutions – which have more leeway in what they require from students – from mandating immunizations for vaccine-preventable diseases. Pennsylvania colleges already require students to get immunized against diseases such as meningitis, polio, diphtheria, and whooping cough.
But the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education, which includes California University of Pennsylvania and 13 other universities, currently does not have the legal authority to mandate the COVID-19 vaccination for students or employees, according to Dave Pidgeon, public relations director for PSSHE.
Washington & Jefferson College has not made a decision yet about whether it will require students to get the vaccine. But the school is working with local health care providers to make the vaccine available to students, faculty and staff who want to receive it.
Waynesburg University does not plan to require the COVID-19 vaccination for students or employees in the fall, but strongly encourages students, faculty and staff to get vaccinated.
Waynesburg worked with Rite Aid to provide an on-campus vaccination clinic for faculty and staff, and plans to offer one for students. The university also is partnering with Washington Health System to provide vaccinations for residents of Washington and Greene counties.
Stacey Brodak, vice president of Institutional Advancement and University Relations, said the university will comply with state and federal regulations regarding COVID-19 vaccinations.
Rutgers officials said one of its goals for vaccinating students – except those with medical and religious exemptions – is to help avoid COVID-19 outbreaks that many colleges and universities have experienced on campus. Students, they noted, are a mobile population who tend to live in congregate settings.
Additionally, while younger adults are generally less susceptible to serious illness, they can spread the virus.
The University of Pittsburgh is facing a worrisome spike in COVID-19 cases that prompted the school to implement a shelter-in-place order last week. Cases of coronavirus have been confirmed at 13 dorms.
The coronavirus cases include the B.1.1.7 variant first identified in the United Kingdom. The UK variant is believed to be more contagious than the original strain, and associated with a higher risk of death.