DALLAS (NewsNation Now) — As U.S. colleges and universities hope to return to normal, they’re weighing how far they’re willing to go to keep campus safe — to require or not to require students, faculty, and staff to get a COVID-19 vaccine to return to campus; that is the question. And for hundreds of colleges across the country, they’re deciding that their answer is yes.
It’s the tale of two stances — those who want the vaccine mandates on college campuses and those who don’t or aren’t quite sold on the idea just yet.
According to the American College Health Association, more than 300 universities will require students to be vaccinated before returning to campus this fall.
In April, ACHA formally recommended colleges mandate the shot, warning that schools without rules would see a return of the virus.
“If there’s a rebound on your campus, because our campuses aren’t islands, there’s a rebound in that community,” said ACHA Interim CEO Dr. Michael Huey.
This week, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that New York’s public colleges and universities will enforce vaccination. On the West Coast, California State University and the University of California system will require it once the Food and Drug Administration fully approves doses.
Meanwhile, in Michigan—schools are wrestling with their decision to mandate vaccinations.
“You know, there won’t be a one-size-fits-all solution,” said Bob Murphy, chief policy officer of the Michigan Associated of State Universities.
Murphy represents Michigan’s 15 public colleges, three of which have decided to mandate vaccinations. While he doesn’t tell the universities what to do, Murphy sees no argument against the vaccine.
“Fundamentally, I don’t think there is a both sides argument because the public health guidance has been so clear,” Murphy said. “And as institutions of higher learning, we’re going to follow the overwhelming evidence on the safety of these vaccines.”
But can universities legally require their students, faculty, and staff to roll up their sleeves? University of California law professor Dorit Reiss says under emergency use approval, it’s unclear.
“What we do know is there is no clear prohibition in the law of universities mandating the (COVID-19) vaccine, and that we have a long history of universities mandating other vaccines,” Reiss said.
Reiss says students who sue their university for requiring the shot have legal standing, but it’s not certain they could win the case. Factors like exemptions and specific schools come into play. For example, private institutions aren’t required to respect religious exemptions, but every school must accommodate students with disabilities.
Reiss says those who just aren’t comfortable with the COVID-19 vaccine will have a choice to make.
“They’ll have to decide, is it more important for them to attend this institution or not to vaccinate,” Reiss explained.
There is also a number of universities that aren’t requiring the shot but offering student incentives for getting vaccinated.
The University of North Carolina has not mandated vaccinations but is raffling off scholarships toward textbooks, meals, and housing. Danville Area Community College in Illinois is offering a free summer course to any student who has gotten the shot.
Ohio Governor Mike DeWine announced Wednesday that adults who’ve received at least one vaccine dose may enter a lottery that will provide a $1 million prize each Wednesday for five weeks. In random drawings, the state will also provide five full four-year scholarships to attend a state university of their choice — including tuition, room-and-board, and books — to vaccinated Ohioans under 18.