Three of Utah’s largest universities will require students who attend classes in person to be vaccinated against COVID-19.
The University of Utah, Utah State University and Weber States University announced on Friday that they will begin implementing vaccination mandates for their campuses as the coronavirus continues to spread. Decisions are a major development in a conservative state that has, by and large, been reluctant to regulate personal choices during the pandemic.
These are the first state-funded colleges in Utah to require the vaccine.
“This global health crisis has transformed two years of our lives and continues to impact our communities,” wrote US President Taylor Randall in a message to students of the decision. “Many of us have lost loved ones or have seen the health of our friends and family permanently altered by this virus.”
Under state law, mask mandates still remain prohibited for higher education here. And universities have only recently been allowed to have vaccination warrants.
The United States, the state of Utah and the state of Weber said the logistics of their new requirements were still under discussion; more details are expected next week.
“We are working on what that will look like,” US spokesman Chris Nelson said.
School mandates only include students – not faculty or staff – at this point, although there is further discussion on this. And there is no deadline yet for those enrolled in in-person classes who will need to be vaccinated. Those who only take online courses do not have to meet the requirements.
Medical, religious and personal exemptions will be allowed, as all public colleges currently allow other vaccine requirements, such as the measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine. It is required by the state.
Nelson and spokespersons for the USU and Weber State said students will likely be required to show proof of vaccination or an approved exception form before spring school begins in January.
USU’s Amanda DeRito said, “We want to make sure we’re deploying it in the best possible way.”
Earlier this year, the Republican-dominated Utah legislature banned public schools and colleges from Kindergarten to Grade 12 from requiring the coronavirus vaccine to attend. But this rule only applied to vaccines used under emergency authorization.
On Monday – also the first day of classes for students in the United States – the Food and Drug Administration granted full approval for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. This has opened the door for universities here to mandate this specific vaccine, if the administrators so wish.
The Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines still cannot be made mandatory as they remain under emergency authorization. Students, however, do not need to obtain a specific photo to meet the requirement.
Other undecided universities
The warrants garnered a joint statement of support from Utah Governor Spencer Cox, Speaker of the Senate Stuart Adams and Speaker of the House Brad Wilson.
“The law allows Utah universities to require vaccinations as long as there is a way for students to submit personal exemptions and attend classes in person,” they said. “We support this balanced approach and look forward to ensuring the safety of students, faculty and staff at our colleges and universities this year. “
In the United States, the state’s flagship college in Salt Lake City, the mandate could include up to 33,000 students. Nelson, however, noted that about 67% have already been vaccinated.
That leaves around 9,000 people needing to be vaccinated.
A petition had started earlier this week asking for a warrant from the school, and more than 1,400 students and staff had signed it. An immunocompromised student said, “To some people it sounds dramatic when I say it’s life or death. But for some of us on this campus, it really is.
The group that launched the appeal, UnSafe U, announced the decision to a tenure on Friday, saying, “Thank you for doing the right thing, University of Utah.”
At USU, there are 28,000 students on about half a dozen campuses. Most frequent the location in northern Utah in Logan, then locations in central Price and southwestern Blanding after that. The school does not have an exact estimate of the number of people who will need to be vaccinated now with the requirement.
Weber State does not have this number either. But it has about 30,000 students.
“We want to do our part to help the state fight rising rates of infection and hospitalization,” Weber State spokeswoman Allison Barlow Hess said.
Together, the three schools represent 91,000 of Utah’s 189,000 higher education students. That’s almost half of the public higher education population.
The Salt Lake Tribune contacted the five remaining public universities and colleges on Friday. Most said they were still weighing whether or not to go ahead with a vaccine mandate.
This includes Utah Valley University, Salt Lake Community College, Southern Utah University, Dixie State University, and Snow College.
“At the moment, the message we have shared is that we are encouraging vaccines and we are encouraging people to wear masks, knowing that it is a personal choice,” said spokeswoman Marci Larsen of Snow College.
“We haven’t decided yet,” added SUU spokesperson David Bishop.
Salt Lake Community College has emailed students and staff, noting that it will also be looking at possible requirements, especially as the more contagious delta variant spreads.
Dixie State said it does not require vaccines “at this time” and plans to continue to assess the virus situation before taking action.
UVU faculty wrote a letter to Governor Cox this week, requesting a college mask mandate; he only indicated that he was opposed to the vaccination warrants. Orem School is the largest college in the state with 41,000 students. But President Astrid Tuminez said she was hesitant to take strong action at a Higher Education Council meeting this week.
The chairman of the board, which oversees the eight public colleges, sent a letter to all university presidents earlier on Friday encouraging them to explore a vaccination policy for their students.
Harris Simmons wrote: “The Council views vaccinations as an effective method of reducing the spread of COVID-19 and keeping our campuses open. As you assess the needs of your campus and region, we encourage you to consider requiring COVID-19 vaccinations – free of charge – for your students. “
Ultimately, however, he noted that it would be up to each campus to decide.
A second similar faculty-led petition was also launched this week calling for all schools in the system to demand the vaccine. It had more than 2,100 signatures on Friday afternoon.
“We will come out stronger”
Before the pair of announcements on Friday, another school – Westminster College in Salt Lake City – had instituted a vaccine requirement. He did this before the full authorization of the Pfizer vaccine, and was able to do so because it is a private institution.
Westminster and Brigham Young University in Provo, also a private college sponsored by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, require masks. They are exempt from the Utah Legislature’s prohibition on this, which only applies to public colleges in the state.
Last school year every college in the state was able to require masks and most did.
Of all of Utah’s colleges, BYU has had the most COVID-19 cases since the start of the pandemic. He followed 5,476 among students and staff from March 2020 until before this fall semester. The school fought against a more conservative student body that threw parties and some students who withdrew due to public health measures.
The USU followed up with 3,355 cases before the current school year. It detected high levels of the virus in dormitories last year as classes began by testing sewage. And nearly 300 students have been quarantined in their rooms.
Emilie Wheeler, a Utah State spokesperson, said this year that there are also several students quarantined – but not as many – as they have started moving in. These people have not yet been vaccinated.
Classes at the school start on Monday.
“We really encourage students to get the vaccine if they want to be able to attend activities and classes in person,” Wheeler said.
The USU, however, said he would not need to be vaccinated to attend football games this fall.
The three schools – the states of the United States, Utah and Weber – will run on-campus vaccination clinics to make it easier for students to get vaccinated.
Weber State has reported approximately 650 cases of COVID-19 from March 2020 until the start of the new semester. READ. had 3,062.
With the University of Utah operating the state’s largest medical school with an adjourned hospital, many doctors there have been pushing for mask warrants and stricter vaccine rules.
Nelson, the spokesperson on the spot, said state leaders intend to discuss whether to require health workers, like those in the United States, to be vaccinated next week.
Now that the United States has a vaccine mandate for students, there are only two Pac-12 athletic conference schools left that do not have this requirement: Arizona State University and the University of Arizona. Arizona state law prohibits them from following suit.
Vaccination mandates are increasingly common in colleges across the country, including many in California and Oregon on the west coast, as well as New York University and others in the east.
In the United States, President Randall wrote, “We encourage each of you to continue to treat each other with empathy and understanding as we work through the ever-changing circumstances of this pandemic. We will emerge stronger at the end of this school year as we now come together as one University of Utah family. “
– Salt Lake Tribune reporter Scott D. Pierce contributed to this story.