Colleges add vaccine mandates after FDA fully approves Pfizer shots

Dive Brief: 

  • Scores of colleges started announcing or cementing coronavirus vaccine mandates following the Pfizer-BioNTech shots gaining full approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Monday for people aged 16 and older. 

  • That includes schools issuing new requirements and those that said their mandates hinge on one of the vaccines available in the U.S. getting full FDA approval. However, some students and employees under new directives have until later this fall to prove they’re fully vaccinated. Often, those who receive exemptions must undergo frequent testing instead. 

  • Full approval may also clear the path for some colleges to mandate the coronavirus vaccine in states that previously barred them from doing so. 

Dive Insight: 

Health and legal experts predicted that full FDA approval of one of the vaccines would make colleges more comfortable mandating the shots, even though the law was already often on their side. It could also reduce hesitancy among employees and students erroneously worried that the vaccines hadn’t been rigorously evaluated. 

Some schools said after the FDA’s announcement that they would require the shots. The University of Louisiana System is adding the coronavirus vaccine to its list of required immunizations, a spokesperson told The Associated Press. The University of Minnesota is doing the same

Mandates weren’t always rolled out immediately. 

Louisiana State University, which is not part of the University of Louisiana System, had said it would review the FDA’s approval before instituting a planned vaccine mandate. But Louisiana State’s president, William Tate IV, said in a letter Tuesday that students will have until Oct. 15 to show proof of full vaccination or receive an exemption under which they would regularly be tested for COVID-19.

Several community colleges in California are also adding vaccine requirements, after some of them said they were awaiting FDA approval.

Some colleges are implementing mandates because officials believe they won’t achieve vaccination levels needed for herd immunity through encouragement alone. Oakland University, in Michigan, expanded its vaccine mandate Monday from just those living in dorm rooms to all students and employees, The Detroit News reported

Oakland President Ora Pescovitz said the college’s goal is to have 85% to 90% of the campus population vaccinated. 

“I was concerned we wouldn’t get there fast enough to avoid an outbreak of cases,” Pescovitz told the publication.

College of the Redwoods, in Northern California, implemented a coronavirus requirement just days before the FDA gave full approval to the Pfizer shots. It also released a podcast episode to explain the federal agency’s approval process. 

“We have tried different ways to encourage our employees and students to get vaccinated,” Keith Flamer, the college’s president, said in its announcement. “With the number of people in our area who have refused to get vaccinated, regardless of the science underlying the vaccines, it was clearly time for the college to institute a mandate.” 

The full approval could also give colleges more leeway to add mandates in states that banned schools from requiring vaccines distributed under the FDA’s Emergency Use Authorization. This designation allows vaccines to be administered more quickly during a health crisis. 

Those states include Texas, where Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, signed an executive order in July barring entities receiving public funding, including colleges, from mandating vaccines under the emergency authorization. And it impacts Ohio, which passed a similar law when all three vaccines in the U.S. held that designation.

Leave a Comment