JEFFERSON CITY — Universities across the region are weighing whether students, faculty and staff should be required to receive COVID-19 shots before returning to campus this fall.
While several schools across the country have already announced plans to require the shots, university officials surveyed by the Post-Dispatch this week said either that the shots would not be required, or that discussions about requiring them were still underway.
Spokesmen for the University of Missouri-Columbia and the University of Missouri-St. Louis both said the vaccines are encouraged but not required.
“We have had discussions, but currently, we are not requiring a vaccine for students, faculty or staff,” said Christian Basi, spokesman for the Columbia campus. “We are highly encouraging everyone to get it, but it is not required.”
Officials at St. Louis University and Washington University said administrators had made no decision about whether to require the inoculations this fall.
At universities, where students live and study in close proximity, certain vaccines are already required unless a student completes a waiver.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has authorized three COVID-19 vaccines for emergency use: the two-dose Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, and the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
Rutgers University in New Jersey announced March 25 it would require a COVID-19 vaccine for the fall semester, possibly becoming the first university to do so, according to Inside Higher Ed.
Rutgers officials said the federal government’s promise of increased vaccine availability, and assessments by health professionals, prompted the requirement.
A news release said students would be able to seek a waiver for medical or religious reasons.
Maggie Rotermund, spokeswoman for St. Louis University, said on Wednesday: “Discussions are underway, but nothing has been decided yet.”
Julie Hail Flory, spokeswoman for Washington University, on Wednesday said administrators had not decided whether to require the vaccine for the fall semester, but pointed to a March 31 university newsletter that said, “We are hopeful that everyone in our university community will have had the opportunity to receive the vaccine by August.”
The campus warned students of increased COVID-19 cases last month, with Rob Wild, interim vice chancellor for student affairs, writing a letter to students March 12 that “too many students (are) having parties or otherwise gathering, even in small groups, and not wearing masks.”
Discussion of the requirements coincides with a national movement against the possible rise of requiring “vaccine passports” in order to travel or enter large sports or entertainment venues.
The Republican-controlled Missouri Senate on Wednesday approved legislation containing a prohibition blocking any entity from requiring a vaccine in order to travel. The proposal applies not only to government, but to private businesses such as airlines.
Gov. Mike Parson last week said he opposed “vaccine passports” but was OK with private entities requiring people to show proof they’ve been vaccinated.
“If the private sector wants to do that, I’m fine with that,” Parson said. “But as far as the state goes we will never — we won’t mandate vaccine passports.”
A significant number of Americans said in a CBS News poll last month they aren’t getting a COVID-19 vaccine or aren’t sure whether they will get it.
The poll found 33% of Republicans polled said they wouldn’t get a COVID-19 shot, and 20% said they were unsure.
Twenty-nine percent of Democrats either weren’t sure or weren’t getting the shot. And 48% of independents said they either weren’t getting the vaccine or were unsure.
Of respondents who were unsure or who wouldn’t get the shot, when asked why they were hesitant, 58% of respondents said the shots were “still too untested — will wait and see.”
Forty-seven percent of respondents were worried about side effects, 37% “don’t trust the government,” and 28% said they “don’t trust the people” making the vaccine, according to the poll.