Colleges Begin Requiring Covid-19 Boosters As Omicron Lurks

With the incidence of Covid-19 increasing again and a surge of the Omicron variant lurking, colleges … [+] have begun to require booster shots for students and employees.


As the fall semester draws to a close, a number of colleges and universities are beginning to issue mandates that students, faculty and staff receive vaccine booster shots prior to, or shortly after, returning for the spring, 2022 semester.

Announcements of the booster requirements began this month as evidence continued to accumulate about the effectiveness of vaccine boosters in reducing mortality due to the delta variant of the virus. In addition, initial laboratory studies have shown that antibodies induced by the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine are able to neutralize the SARS-CoV-2 Omicron variant.
Now that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended booster doses for all adults who’ve received their second dose of Moderna or Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine at least six months ago and those who’ve had a Johnson & Johnson shot at least two months ago, college officials are beginning to take that advice to heart and put in place new Covid-19 protocols.

Claiming that it was among the first of U.S. universities to require vaccinations, Syracuse University announced on December 6 that it will require all eligible students, faculty and staff who routinely access any Syracuse University campus location or facility “to receive a booster shot prior to the start of the spring semester, or as soon as they become eligible.”

Students at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst will also be required to get a booster shot before returning for the spring semester, according to a statement released by its chancellor on December 1. “The vaccine booster, combined with advance testing … and ongoing wastewater testing, adaptive testing, convenient voluntary testing options and our indoor mask requirement represent a comprehensive approach to reduce the spread of COVID-19 and ensure a safe and successful spring for our community,” wrote Chancellor Kumble R. Subbaswamy. 

Several Massachusetts colleges are following suit, including Boston College, Northeastern University, Emerson College and Smith College. In Maine, Bowdoin College will require its students and employees to provide proof that they’ve received a booster shot before returning for the spring semester.

Wesleyan University, a liberal arts college in Connecticut, will also require boosters for students who’ll be on campus this spring. According to NPR affiliate KOSU, Wesleyan’s president, Michael Roth, said of the decision, “There’s no good reason to hesitate. Some people don’t like to be first. But in this case, being first for public health doesn’t seem to be a particularly risky place to be.”

By week’s end, the list of institutions deciding to institute a booster mandate had begun to spread to other regions of the country.

The University of New Mexico updated its Covid-19 protocol to include a booster requirement, mandating that all current employees and students receive a vaccine booster when eligible by January 17, 2022.
The University of Notre Dame notified students they would be required to receive a booster and assured them that it would host its own booster vaccination clinic in the spring with enough Pfizer-BioNTech booster vaccines for all students.
In Minnesota, Carleton and St. Olaf, two private liberal arts colleges, announced they would require their students and employees to receive a booster shot by January 21 (Carleton) or February 1 (St. Olaf).

The moves to impose booster mandates come at a time when campuses are feeling renewed anxiety and confusion about how best to cope with the recent surge in new cases – largely of the Delta variant – while they wait to see how serious the lurking Omicron variety will prove to be.
After an outbreak of Covid-19 on its campus this week, Middlebury College in Vermont abruptly informed students that campus dining halls would be closed; and all classes, athletic events and performances would either shift to remote mode or be canceled.
On Friday, Tulane University announced it was reinstating a mask mandate following its biggest Covid-19 outbreak of the fall semester. It also revealed that the new illnesses include “probable” Omicron cases. Tulane’s not alone. A student at the University of Southern California and one at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte have also tested positive for the Omicron variant, which so far has been found in 25 states.
Elsewhere, as President Biden’s executive order requiring federal contractors to be vaccinated faced an uncertain legal fate, some institutions were lifting the vaccine mandates they had just recently put in place in response to the order. Many others, however, were keeping their various mandates in place, as fears about the risks of increased transmission associated with holiday travel take hold.
Any hopes that the pandemic would soon largely be behind us, allowing colleges to return to normal by next semester, are quickly evaporating. Dark clouds are still on the horizon.

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