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University of Virginia to mandate coronavirus vaccines for students

The flagship university joins a growing list of public schools that are requiring vaccines.

The University of Virginia will require students who return to campus in the fall to be vaccinated against the coronavirus. (Julia Rendleman for The Washington Post)

The University of Virginia will require students who live, learn or work on campus this fall to be vaccinated against the coronavirus, school officials announced Thursday.

The order applies to the student body of about 25,000, with the exception of students with medical or religious excuses. Faculty and staff are encouraged to get their shots, but those who do not will have to undergo regular testing, officials said.

The announcement comes as school officials make plans to open the campus further next semester. The university offered a mix of online and face-to-face classes this spring and allowed a limited number of students to live on the Charlottesville campus.

“Our planning assumes that the overwhelming majority of our community will be fully vaccinated this fall, allowing us to return to in-person instruction, research and residential life,” university leaders said in an email to students and employees.

Virginia’s flagship university joins a growing list of public campuses that are mandating coronavirus vaccines, most of which are in Democrat-led states, exposing a partisan divide between schools that will enforce vaccine mandates and those that will not.

Maryland public universities will mandate coronavirus vaccines. Other campuses aren’t so sure.

So far, it appears that no flagship universities in states that favored President Donald Trump in his 2020 reelection bid are mandating the vaccine, according to an analysis by the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Across the country, more than 380 colleges are requiring coronavirus vaccines for at least some students or faculty, the tally from the Chronicle shows.

U-Va. ’s decision comes days after the campus exempted fully vaccinated people from indoor and outdoor mask requirements. The change followed similar guidance from from Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

University officials said the campus could start to look the way it did before the pandemic, with most classes being offered only in-person, elimination of classroom capacity limits and spectators at sporting events.

“As we look back on an academic year where the pandemic changed every part of life at U-Va., the availability and effectiveness of the vaccines will make it possible for all of us to live, learn and work together in more ‘normal’ ways in the year to come,” officials wrote.

U-Va. coronavirus cases surge, with more than 500 new cases this week

U-Va. officials spent weeks weighing the legal implications of requiring coronavirus vaccines. Some schools have been hesitant to enact such measures because, unlike other vaccines mandated on campuses, the drugs that protect against the coronavirus currently have emergency-use authorization — not full approval — from the Food and Drug Administration.

But that could soon change. Pfizer and BioNTech — which have distributed more than 184 million coronavirus vaccine doses throughout the United States — filed a request earlier this month for full approval from the FDA for patients age 16 and older.

With vaccines becoming more prevalent, the American College Health Association is advising campuses to enforce vaccine requirements for students, calling it “the most effective way for institutions of higher education to return to a safe, robust on-campus experience for students in fall semester 2021.”

Still, in the absence of mandates, local leaders are encouraging their communities to get inoculated. Some are offering incentives: Ohio will reward five vaccinated teenagers will full scholarships to state universities, even though vaccines are not required at most state schools, Gov. Mike DeWine (R) recently announced.

Analysis: Turns out the chance of winning a million bucks may be a decent vaccination incentive

U-Va.’s mandate comes about a month after Maryland’s public university system said it would require students and employees to be vaccinated. In an apparent attempt to persuade faculty and staff, the University of Maryland at College Park’s athletics department is offering free football tickets to employees who receive their first or second shots before June 30.

“Vaccinating all faculty, staff and students is the single most effective way we can keep our community healthy this forthcoming semester,” said U-Md. President Darryll J. Pines.