Some Universities Are Now Mandating Covid-19 Vaccines for All Students and Faculty
Attending college in person may require vaccination at many privately owned institutions of higher learning
As the spring semester comes to a close, colleges and universities are releasing plans for a safe reopening in the fall. Three prominent institutes of higher learning announced plans to require Covid-19 vaccines for all students and staff.
On March 25, New Jersey’s Rutgers University was first with an appropriately titled announcement “Our path forward.” The administration laid out plans for mandatory student Covid-19 vaccination. Faculty vaccinations are “strongly encouraged.”
Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colorado, released its fall semester vaccine guidelines requiring students to upload proof of vaccination through the Fort Lewis App prior to enrollment.
Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, also announced plans to require vaccination for all students and faculty. President Martha Pollack and provost Michael Kotlikoff issued a joint April 2 statement outlining the plans and the rationale.
New York plans to reduce the age of Covid-19 vaccine eligibility to people 16 years and older starting April 6. Cornell officials believe enough students and faculty will be fully vaccinated by the fall to allow a safe return to in-person classes.
Some schools shared plans to help students get vaccinated. Rutgers University has been approved by the state of New Jersey to offer Covid-19 vaccines to all students and faculty, but the campus has not received doses yet. Cornell plans to help students qualify and schedule appointments through its vaccine support program and is working to find a solution for enrolled students coming in from other states who have not been vaccinated.
Cornell said it will also continue Covid-19 mitigation strategies: Students and staff are required to wear high-quality mask-wearing, classes are arranged with special seating to allow social distancing, and the campus has worked to improve classroom ventilation. Current Covid-19 surveillance testing using its Daily Check tool, which all faculty and students must register to use by April 15, will continue. The surveillance data will allow the university to determine when the campus reaches 50% herd immunity. The school’s leadership anticipates that meeting this threshold will allow the campus to return to in-person learning. If herd immunity is not reached, then the campus will reopen with a remote option.
The decisions by Rutgers and Cornell are in line with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidance for college campuses, which was updated in March. The CDC recognizes that people attending school in congregated settings are at an increased risk for catching and spreading Covid-19.
The CDC asks each institute of higher learning to implement a Covid-19 screening strategy before the beginning of each term and to work with local public health authorities so that campus policy fits with the disease prevalence in the surrounding area. A universal screening strategy is recommended if sufficient testing capacity is not available.
Many campuses are implementing rapid testing protocols. Rapid antigen testing, for example, detects the fragmented pieces of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that trigger an immune response. Like PCR testing, antigen testing detects an active infection but can be done much faster. Rapid antigen tests have been approved by the CDC, and the Food and Drug Administration has authorized a few such tests for emergency use. They are a highly accurate way to detect Covid-19 in people with symptoms.
The CDC has approved antigen testing. These FDA-approved tests are a highly accurate way to detect Covid-19 in patients with symptoms. Symptomatic individuals have high viral loads, which allows rapid tests to accurately diagnosis Covid-19. These tests are not as accurate in asymptomatic individuals or those with very low viral loads.
To help clinicians interpret the results of these tests, the CDC has published a protocol on how to interpret test results involving the use of the antigen test algorithm.
As of right now, there are three FDA-approved vaccines for Covid-19 that universities and colleges may use. The two messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccines from Moderna and Pfizer offer 95% protection against Covid-19. In these vaccines, a single strand of mRNA delivers instructions to human cells to produce an antibody against the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein.
The vaccine from Johnson and Johnson/Janssen offers 72% protection against infection and 86% protection against severe disease. Rather than mRNA, this vaccine uses Adenovirus 26 (AD26) as a vector to deliver DNA material into cells to provoke an immune response.
The Moderna and Janssen vaccines are approved for those 18 years old and up. The Pfizer vaccine is approved starting at age 16.
All three vaccines are highly effective in preventing death.