College vaccine requirements could determine which students are allowed to attend in-person classes and live in campus housing during the 2021 fall semester.
Several universities have already released vaccine requirement guidelines for the upcoming academic year, hoping to achieve herd immunity on campus. Duke University, Rutgers University and the University of Notre Dame are among more than a dozen institutions requiring students to receive the COVID-19 vaccine if they want to return to school this fall.
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Ivy League universities Brown and Cornell have also mandated proof of vaccination for campus students, faculty and staff. Cornell's statement on COVID-19 Vaccination and Fall Instruction (opens in new tab) provides an example of the vaccine guidelines universities plan to follow in coming months. It explains how vaccine exemptions will work, too:
"Medical and religious exemptions will be accommodated, but the expectation will be that our campuses and classrooms will overwhelmingly consist of vaccinated individuals," reads Cornell's vaccine requirements statement.
Syracuse University will also offer medical and religious exemptions (opens in new tab). The upstate New York campus is currently operating a vaccination site for its students, faculty and staff. Proof of vaccination will be required starting June 1, 2021 for the summer academic session.
The list of universities with vaccine requirements is expected to grow as vaccine appointments become available to younger populations in more states. As of this writing, 37 states offer vaccines for people age 16 and up. Starting April 19, all states should offer the same vaccination eligibility.
The precedent for college vaccine requirements
College vaccine requirements have been mandated in the past. In fact, most have required at least one vaccine, usually MMR, with exemptions on a case-by-case basis. The infrastructure for incoming students to upload their proof of vaccination via online portal is likely in place for many academic institutions in the country already.
According to a survey from Maguire Associates (opens in new tab), nearly 70% of prospective first-year college students feel comfortable or very comfortable getting vaccinated. Less than 20% feel uncomfortable or very uncomfortable getting vaccinated.
Vaccine requirements are expected to face legal challenges from students, parents and lawmakers opposed to vaccination mandates. The battles may look different state-to-state, and could provide different outcomes depending on whether a given university is public or private.
One solution for students who want to attend school without proof of vaccination could be weekly testing or other requirements that are currently enforced on some campuses.