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Many Colleges Are Requiring COVID-19 Vaccines—How People Really Feel About It

Student getting vaccinated

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Key Takeaways

  • After a year of online learning, colleges are making plans for the transition back to in-person classes.
  • Many are mandating the COVID-19 vaccine for in-person learning and on-campus housing. 
  • This has been met with both praise and pushback from families. 

Colleges Are Doing Their Part to Help Us Reach Herd Immunity

For the fall of 2021, many schools, including Princeton University, Johns Hopkins University, and Boston University are requiring students to receive the COVID-19 vaccine in order to attend in-person classes and stay on campus. 

Colleges in 38 states and Washington D.C. have made the requirement so far, and the list continues to grow. Princeton University addressed their vaccine requirements on their website: 

Princeton University will require all undergraduate and graduate students enrolled or otherwise present on campus during the 2021-22 academic year to receive, and to provide proof of having received, a COVID-19 vaccine authorized by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Andrea Love, PhD

Vaccinations have single-handedly eliminated or near-eliminated numerous diseases in the U.S. and across the world.

— Andrea Love, PhD

Princeton freshman Yende Mangum wasn't fazed by the announcement. He says, “I’m not at all surprised, given that they already have many other vaccine requirements.” Mangum is also one of many students who already took the initiative to get vaccinated.

Rowan University in Glassboro, NJ, issued a similar statement:

Rowan University announced it will require—and provide an incentive—for all students to be vaccinated, in an effort to help New Jersey reach its goal of a 70 percent vaccination rate and provide the university community a sense of extra safety. The requirement and incentive apply to all matriculated students who will live on campus, in affiliated housing or attend classes in person in fall 2021.…

Students may opt out of the vaccination requirement for medical or religious reasons. Students may also opt out for personal reasons while the COVID-19 vaccine is under an emergency use authorization. 

The university is offering a $500 credit as an incentive for students who are vaccinated, plus another $500 for students who live on campus. Students who opt out for any reason may have to still wear masks; but with states lifting mask mandates, it is uncertain if any mask mandates would be followed.

What Families and Experts Are Saying

Some Parents Are Skeptical of Vaccine Mandates

Eric Reiger of New Jersey does not want his 18-year-old daughter to be vaccinated. She will be attending Rowan College of South Jersey, which is a community college extension of the university, this fall. His main reasoning is his distrust in the effectiveness of the vaccine. He also believes that his daughter’s age group is the least vulnerable, so the vaccine would be "pointless" for them.

"The vaccine should be voluntary for anyone who wants to protect themselves or thinks they need it to prevent serious complications from COVID-19," he says. "To force it on people when it doesn’t prevent it is ridiculous.” 

Reiger also shares that he and his daughter both contracted COVID-19 in 2020, but neither had severe symptoms. His daughter was asymptomatic. 

Immunologist Andrea Love, PhD, refutes Reiger’s claims that the vaccine is not effective, and that so far, teens and young adults are major contributors to the spread. “The vaccines are demonstrably safe and effective,” she explains.

“Rigorous review of clinical trial data, starting from the beginning, has shown there are no serious safety issues with the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. The pediatric clinical trials have demonstrated 100% efficacy against symptomatic illness,” says Love.

Love confirms that severe COVID-19 in children and young adults is less common, however, it isn’t unheard of. She believes that it is premature to overlook the effects of the virus on teens and young adults.

“Nearly four million children have gotten sick with COVID-19, and over 200,000 have been hospitalized," she notes. "Many who have been hospitalized have evidence of neurologic, cardiac, and even systemic complications, including the rare MIS-C, which is potentially life-threatening. Vaccination would protect your kids and young adults from serious illness and complications.” 

Love encourages people to trust the efficacy of inoculation. “Vaccinations have single-handedly eliminated or near-eliminated numerous diseases in the U.S. and across the world,” she says. This includes polio, which has been eradicated in the U.S., and smallpox, which has been eradicated worldwide.

Love also points out that colleges have been known to have outbreaks of diseases, such as meningitis. Consequently, the meningitis vaccine is often required at many colleges. 

Some Parents Are Relieved About Vaccine Mandates

At Temple University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, a Covid-19 outbreak in the fall of 2020 led to many students being vaccinated as soon as they were eligible. 

One Temple mom, Lori Widelitz-Cavallucci of Philadelphia, wishes that the school would impose such a mandate. Her son’s entire football team, including the coach, contracted COVID-19 in the fall of 2020.

"Any place where people are required to work or learn and be together for a full day–including my workplace–should mandate vaccines," said Widelitz-Cavallucci. "We know that they don’t offer 100% protection against COVID to begin with, and offices and schools are just opening up risk by having to share the same air being circulated with people who may not be vaccinated."

Cassandra Arline, a mother of school-aged children and a full-time staffer at St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, hopes that her employer will adopt a vaccine mandate soon. Even without one, she believes that SJU has done an excellent job of keeping any outbreaks under control.

“COVID-19 is still around and spreading like wildfire,” Arline says. "We’ve been one of the few universities in the area to have a consistent system with precautions put in place through tons of active planning.”

Despite that, there was an uptick in late fall and in the spring, but she feels that most students wouldn’t care too much about a vaccine requirement. “Most of the college kids will take anything at this point that will give them a more normal college experience," she notes.

What This Means for You

Herd immunity is on the horizon, but we still have a ways to go. According to Thomas Kenyon, chief health officer at Project HOPE and 21-year veteran of the Centers for Disease Control, “The U.S. is making strong progress with vaccinating the public against COVID-19, and we’re seeing evidence that it is working. [However] to get back to normal, we still need to remain in a pandemic emergency mode. One thing is clear: This pandemic is far from over.”

The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means newer information may be available when you read this. For the most recent updates on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus news page.

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