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List of universities requiring vaccines grows and so does pushback

The list of universities requiring vaccinations to return to campus in the fall is growing longer by the day.

Why it matters: With the mandates, universities are going where most corporations have not. The political and legal blowback is already taking shape.

  • The requirements will help ensure a full return to normal, which has huge financial upside for the colleges — and the workers and businesses that depend on them — that were pummeled during the pandemic year. 

What they’re saying: “If you’re a residential college, some of those have taken big hits because they have dormitories to maintain and they haven’t collected any revenue from them,” Sandy Baum, a nonresident senior fellow at the Urban Institute, tells Axios.

What’s going on: Brown University is the latest to mandate a vaccine for students and faculty in the fall — joining Cornell, Nova Southeastern Florida and others.

  • New Jersey-based public university Rutgers was among the first to announce it would require shots for students, though not for faculty and staff.
  • Rutgers says “data clearly reflects that students have a 60% to 70% higher positivity rate than faculty and staff. This is to be expected since they are highly mobile and highly interactive,” per a statement. 

Another caveat: Universities say students with religious or medical reasons can be exempt — a process that may be a logistical and legal nightmare, education trade group American Council on Education warns.

  • “Legally and respectfully” managing these requests “will require administrative attention and risk vocal challenges ... likely amplified on social media,” the group says in a recent brief.
  • Even if mandates ultimately become permissible in schools and workplaces, policymakers will likely consider whether mandates are “the most effective means in accomplishing this goal” of mass vaccinations, a Wednesday policy brief from the Kaiser Family Foundation says. 

Background: Colleges have historically required vaccines for other viruses.

The big picture: Other universities are encouraging students to get vaccinated, even with incentives, but have stopped short of a mandate, saying there is an equity benefit to not excluding all those who can’t or decide not to receive a shot.

  • Arizona University has been vocal in having maintained a low positivity rate of 0.31% and will not mandate student vaccinations.
  • University of Florida partnered with the state to secure mass vaccination plans for any student who wants one. 

Some lawmakers are pushing back on mandates overall, including for schools. 

  • Some states are considering legislation that would prohibit entities like schools and private businesses from conditioning attendance or services on receipt of the COVID-19 vaccine, per KFF. 
  • One New Jersey assemblywoman plans to introduce legislation to prevent Rutgers from mandating students to getting the vaccine by the fall, Patch reports.

The next flashpoint: How students will prove they are vaccinated as “vaccine passports” stir up political feuds.

  • States like Texas and Florida are banning them — with potential implications for colleges based there. NIAID’s Anthony Fauci said this week the federal government won’t mandate vaccine passports.
  • Florida-based Nova Southeastern — which has a vaccination center onsite — tells Axios it’s still figuring out a verification system for people inoculated elsewhere.
  • Northeastern says an announcement on how students will prove their status is coming soon.
  • Cornell has set up a “proof of vaccination” portal.

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