7 in 10 students think colleges can require the coronavirus vaccine: survey

by Emma

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Dive Brief:

  • A recent survey highlights questions and concerns college students may have about the coronavirus vaccine and whether they’ll be required to get it.
  • College Pulse polled around 1,000 undergraduates at public and private colleges in January. Seven in 10 students surveyed believe colleges can require them to get vaccinated.
  • Colleges are reportedly weighing whether to require students to receive the shots, but the timing and nature of a mandate would depend on several factors.

Dive Insight:

Students at private colleges were slightly more likely than their peers at public institutions to believe schools have

“the right to require” students to get vaccinations. Around a third of respondents were concerned about the vaccines’ safety, though that share was higher among students of color (43%). 

The findings highlight a challenge colleges face: Educating their campus communities about the coronavirus vaccines while ensuring they continue to follow safety protocols until herd immunity is reached. What share of people need to be vaccinated to meet that threshold is uncertain, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention told Higher Ed Dive last month. 

Some states are already making vaccines available to college workers, but the rollout has been slow and inconsistent across the country. Higher education groups have pressed for college students to be vaccinated before the end of the spring term, citing the potential for them to spread the disease as they leave campus for the summer.

It’s not yet clear if and when colleges will require students to get the vaccines, though officials may wait until the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has fully approved the shots so they’d be on firmer legal footing if someone challenges the requirement, one legal expert said late last year. The two vaccines being distributed have an “emergency use authorization.”

A mandate would also hinge on the availability of the vaccine. Some estimates suggest the vaccines might be widely accessible by late spring or early summer. New federal distribution efforts could help.

The Biden administration last month asked federal agencies to come up with guidance and support for colleges to reopen safely. It also indicated colleges will play a greater role in vaccine distribution and education initiatives. So far, some colleges have served as vaccination sites and several institutional leaders have actively promoted the vaccines

Public health experts say colleges should continue testing students and employees for the virus and maintaining safety protocols such as social distancing and mask-wearing. They can also encourage people to get the vaccine and educate them about its knowns and unknowns. 

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