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Will US colleges demand that students are vaccinated against COVID-19?

DEC 15, 2020 • 6 min read

Many people have high hopes that the COVID-19 vaccine will allow the world to return to what it was pre-pandemic; especially current and soon-to-be university students and their parents. But there are questions as to how colleges, particularly in the US, will respond to this unique situation and what the next several months will look like for students.

After the fastest vaccine development process in history, this month marks the beginning of the worldwide deployment of COVID-19 vaccines, and is a major milestone in the battle against the virus. It is predicted that at least 70% of the population will need to be vaccinated before we can achieve herd immunity, but what role will colleges play in this? Many students are hopeful that a return to normalcy is on the horizon; especially those who have yet to set foot on the campus of their dream university.

While students are generally at lower risk of suffering an extreme reaction from COVID-19, colleges are also well documented as hotspots for the virus. Given many students travel not only across the country but the globe to attend school, there is a major outbreak risk in the absence of widespread inoculation. This raises some questions about what universities will do come the start of the new school year in 2021.

Could colleges demand students get the COVID-19 vaccine?

The short answer to this is yes. Harvard Law School Professor Alan Dershowitz states that “If you refuse to be vaccinated, the state has the power to literally take you to a doctor’s office and plunge a needle into your arm” so long as the disease being vaccinated against is contagious and deemed necessary for public health or safety. This is something states can mandate, so the COVID-19 vaccine being added to the list of requirements for students is well within the bounds of the law.

Could colleges distribute the vaccine themselves?

In terms of convenience and compliance, it would be ideal for students to be inoculated en masse by the institutions they attend. The practicality of this, however, depends on which vaccines make it to market. While some will have suitable storage facilities and staffing to manage distribution on this scale, that is not the case everywhere and so while vaccines are still a limited resource they will likely be reserved for the places already equipped to handle them.

Is the COVID-19 vaccine likely to be required by colleges?

This question is much harder to answer than whether they can, not because colleges might be reluctant but because the mass demand for vaccines could pose limitations. Essential workers and those at the highest risk are naturally at the front of the queue, and it will be months before we know how distribution will continue past that point. Furthermore, most students are not high-risk, so for a vaccine to be useful in colleges it must not only prevent symptoms but also stop transmission. This is something the vaccines currently in development have not been proven to do, and so the effectiveness of such a requirement is still in doubt.

This isn’t to say it won’t happen. In anticipation of widespread vaccine availability, some colleges are preparing to increase on-campus capacity in the coming semester. For example, Princeton announced it will welcome all enrolled students to campus for spring 2021 while Harvard says it will expand the number of undergraduates invited to live on campus to fill 3,100 beds.

What does this say about how colleges will look next year?

All in all, the COVID-19 vaccine is not an immediate solution to all our problems, but it is a step in the right direction — especially for students eager to return to the traditional college experience. It will take a while for universities to look and feel the way they did before the pandemic — if they ever do — but students can be confident that they are doing everything possible to make next year more accessible than the last.

Navigating the current college landscape can be difficult, but one thing is certain: with the right resources, it’s much easier. At Crimson, our dedicated strategists and mentors stay by their students’ side far beyond the college application process, providing support throughout your undergraduate course, in your graduate endeavors and into your career. To learn what Crimson can do to help you achieve your university dreams, click the link below and schedule a free one hour consultation with one of our Academic Advisors.

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