Utah State University will be requiring a COVID-19 vaccine after a letter from the Utah Board of Higher Education sent last Friday encouraged college presidents to consider the vaccine as a precondition for enrollment.
“We’ve received the go-ahead from the legislature and also from the Utah Board of Higher Education to do vaccine requirements,” USU spokesperson Amanda DeRito told The Herald Journal.
According to USU Spokesperson Emilie Wheeler, the lack of a vaccine will not immediately impact a student’s enrollment at USU but could affect registration in the coming spring semester.
“We’ll be asking them to be vaccinated sometime this fall semester,” Wheeler said, explaining details were still being ironed out. “This has come very fast.”
The implementation of a vaccine requirement comes off the heels of Pfizer-BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine — now being marketed under the brand name Comirnaty — receiving FDA approval on Monday for individuals 16 years of age and older.
Wheeler said the university will be offering the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine through clinics put on in conjunction with the Bear River Health Department for the next several weeks, but any COVID-19 vaccine will do.
“Classes haven’t even started, and we already have students who are in quarantine due to positive exposures either on or near campus over the past few days,” Wheeler said. “It’s just really important for students to realize that if they want to enjoy the full university experience, the way to do that is to be fully vaccinated.”
According to the letter from the Utah Board of Higher Education, the Utah State Legislature passed a bill authorizing universities and colleges to require a COVID-19 vaccine provided opt-outs be available for “medical, religious, or personal reasons.”
According to HB 233, a student can be medically exempt from vaccination provided an exemption form is completed and a notice from a licensed health care provider states the vaccine would endanger the student’s life or health due to the physical condition of the student. A personal or religious exemption requires “a completed vaccination exemption form, stating that the student is exempt from the vaccination because of a personal or religious belief.”
Wheeler said details regarding how exemptions at USU will be managed are still in the works, and vaccination records will likely be managed through the Aggie Health web portal. For weeks, Wheeler said students, staff and faculty have been asked to upload their vaccination cards.
For the time being, Wheeler said the vaccine requirement at USU only extends to students. And while the university can require a vaccine, current legislation bans mask requirements. It’s also unclear how the university will handle students who refuse a vaccination and refuse to fill out an exemption.
“Those situations are probably going to be the ones we are discussing over the coming weeks,” Wheeler said.
Wheeler said the reaction from students, staff and faculty has been generally positive, but opinions are sure to vary.
For Wheeler, the vaccine requirement means “keeping our university vibrant and maintaining the energy and the excitement that we can feel ready” with the recent arrival of students for the fall semester.
“USU is a research university, and we trust in the science that shows that these vaccines are safe and effective,” Wheeler said. “We’re a residential campus where we value the student experience, and if students want to be in face-to-face classes and participate in activities and events, then we need to encourage and advocate vaccination however we can.”