Colleges across the Capital Region are encouraging students to get vaccinated against COVID-19 as soon as possible but so far have split over whether to require returning students receive the vaccine.
While Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute last week signaled a vaccine requirement would be critical in fully returning to in-person instruction on campus, it did not detail the specifics of a vaccine mandate.
“We are looking ahead to a full in-person experience in the fall semester with members of the community protected by required vaccinations, and the spread of infections under greater control,” college officials wrote in a campus reopening update last week.
But other private colleges in the region have yet to go as far as RPI, even as some have moved in the direction of a vaccine requirement.
Skidmore College plans to require COVID-19 vaccines for “any student who is living, studying, working, conducting research or doing an internship on campus this summer,” but a Skidmore spokesperson Monday said the school had not yet made a decision about requiring the vaccine for students returning to campus in the fall.
“We don’t have a fall policy update to share at this time, but we continue to encourage all eligible students to get vaccinated as soon as possible,” Skidmore spokesperson Angela Valden said Monday, noting an updated policy was possible in the coming weeks.
Siena College spokesperson Lisa Witkowski on Monday said the college has not mandated vaccines yet – highlighting the fact that the vaccines are still only approved under a federal emergency use authorization, which complicates the legal question of vaccine mandates – but made clear the college will expect its students to get the vaccines.
“Siena College has not yet mandated the COVID-19 vaccine for this semester because it is still technically in the FDA’s emergency use approval phase,” Witkowsi said. “However, we expect new and returning students this fall to have the vaccine.”
Union College spokesperson Phil Wajda said the college had not yet made a decision about whether to require vaccines in the fall.
Meanwhile, SUNY community colleges and universities are looking to SUNY Central leaders for their cues on vaccine requirements. SUNY Chancellor Jim Malatras in recent weeks has shied away from backing an explicit vaccine mandate, while pressing the case that students should get vaccinated.
A SUNY spokesperson Monday reiterated the system’s position that a mandate is not yet necessary, while adding officials will continue to “monitor the reception to vaccines among our student population.”
“We firmly believe the vast majority (of students) will choose to get vaccinated without any requirement in place,” SUNY spokesperson Holly Liapis said in a statement Monday. “Over and over again, our students have showcased their willingness to lead throughout the public health crisis, and with the finish line in sight, there’s no reason to believe that will change.”
But in the statement Liapis left open the possibility that officials could decide to impose a vaccine mandate as the new school year gets nearer.
“As the fall semester approaches, we will continue to work closely with SUNY stakeholders, public health officials, and other colleges and universities to make a final determination on whether to require vaccinations,” Liapis said.
SUNY schools across the state have helped lead vaccination efforts, hosting numerous community vaccination sites and communicating the importance of vaccines to students and staff. Even without a vaccine mandate, students who get vaccinated may not have to comply with the same testing requirements that all students have lived under this year.
“We take our cues on vaccination requirements from SUNY and the (state) Department of Health,” Fulton-Montgomery Community College President Greg Truckenmiller said Monday. “As of this moment, we are not hearing that a vaccine will be required, but that students who choose to become vaccinated will not have to be tested for COVID as frequently as those who choose not to become vaccinated.”
Some major flagship public universities across the country last week announced plans to mandate vaccines next school year, including Rutgers in New Jersey and the University of California and California State University systems.
Higher education policy analysts have highlighted the complication of the emergency use authorization under the Federal Drug Administration, rather than full approval, for schools considering vaccine mandates. (A mandate would likely be stronger against legal challenges if the vaccines were granted full FDA approval.)