Students at the University of Connecticut will be required to receive the COVID-19 vaccine before returning to study in the fall. The university Board of Trustees voted unanimously on Friday to adopt a policy that Dr. Andrew Agwunobi, the interim president of the University of Connecticut and CEO of UConn Health, presented during the meeting.
Agwunobi said that students should get vaccinated before coming back to campus. If they cannot get vaccinated prior to the return, he said, the university will make vaccines available for them when they arrive on campus. He explained that changes in weather, variants and the return to normal life could lead to another surge in the COVID-19 virus, and that the vaccinations were important in keeping everyone safe.
The university will accept any vaccine approved by either the FDA or the World Health Organization, that includes the Pfizer, Moderna, Johnson and Johnson, Sinopharm and AstraZeneca vaccines.
“The most important goal of the university leadership … is opening safely and successfully in the fall,” said Agwunobi. “Perhaps the single most important step we can take is vaccinating as many students as possible.”
But Agwunobi also said that there would be opportunities for both medical and non-medical exemptions from vaccination “on a case-by-case basis.” He also said that there would be an “easy method,” managed by student affairs, to request an exemption.
UConn spokesperson Stephanie Reitz said that students will not be guaranteed a remote learning option if they don’t meet the exemption criteria and do not want to take the vaccine. Reitz said that faculty who do not want to teach in-person can request an accommodation through the American Disabilities Act, but that if the request isn’t granted, the faculty member would be required to teach in person. A few online courses that are an exception to this rule.
Students granted an exemption will still have to comply with certain rules, including periodic COVID testing, masking, restrictions on housing and requirements for quarantining after contact with a COVID-positive person.
“We’re not talking about punitive measures, we’re not talking about measures that may stigmatize our students,” said Agwunobi. “These are just measures to keep those students safe, and to keep other students, as well, safe.”
60.7 percent of individuals on the UConn Storrs campus have already had at least one dose of the vaccine.
Agwunobi said that the University had sent out a survey to 30,000 UConn students, 8,000 of whom responded. Out of those 8,000, he said, 83.5 percent reported that they were vaccinated, and 5.9 percent said they were hesitant or did not want to be vaccinated.
“We believe from our surveys that the vast majority of students want to be vaccinated and are willing to be vaccinated,” said Agwunobi.
According to Agwunobi, seven private colleges in Connecticut have already required vaccinations for students, including Yale, Wesleyan, Quinnipiac, Connecticut College and Trinity College.
Dr. Jody Terranova, an assistant professor at the University of Connecticut School of Medicine and president-elect and immunization representative for the Connecticut chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, spoke in favor of requiring vaccinations for both students and staff.
“We vaccinate not only to protect ourselves, but also as responsible members of the community, to protect others too,” said Terranova. “It really makes sense to require a vaccine for the disease that is currently causing the greatest threat.”
Mary Ellen Junda, president of the UConn faculty union, said that many members of the union believe students should be vaccinated for the safety of staff and faculty.
“Student vaccinations are essential both for return to face to face teaching and the on-campus living that the administration is advocating for,” said Junda
She said that some faculty members felt that the university should require faculty and staff to be vaccinated, “with flexibility.”
Board Chair Dan Toscano explained that university was not requiring faculty and staff vaccinations, saying that this was “a bit more complicated” and an “ongoing discussion.” Agwunobi said they needed to approve a policy now to give students enough time to get vaccinated.
Students will be required to upload proof of vaccination by July 31, 2021, or a request for an exemption by July 15, 2021. Students who request an exemption will be notified by August 6 if their request was accepted.