Cornell University plans to require COVID-19 vaccines for students returning on campus this fall, according to a statement from the university released on Friday.
Across the country, eligibility for COVID-19 vaccines has been moving towards including everyone ages 16 and older—including in New York state beginning April 6th—as supplies increase and more vaccination sites have opened since the vaccine campaign began in mid-December.
“With the recent announcements of expanded vaccine eligibility in New York and other states, and increasing vaccine production, it is likely that all members of our community will be able to obtain vaccination sometime this spring or summer,” President Martha Pollack and provost Michael Kotlikoff said in a statement. “Accordingly, Cornell intends to require vaccination for students returning to Ithaca, Geneva, and Cornell Tech campuses for the fall semester.”
The announcement follows a similar one from Rutgers University in New Jersey, which will also require the shots for on-campus students. At both universities, the requirements allow for medical and religious exemptions.
But Cornell still expects most people will be vaccinated to reduce the spread of coronavirus. For those who cannot get inoculated or who have gotten a vaccine that New York state does not recognize, Cornell is working on ways to help those students access the vaccine. They’re expected to get the shot “as soon after their arrival as possible.” Students, faculty, and staff at Cornell are required to register their vaccination to the university beginning April 15th in an online portal after completing the full dose series. Currently, authorized vaccines from Moderna and Pfizer require two doses, while Johnson & Johnson offers a one-shot option.
As vaccines become more available in the U.S., universities are beginning to weigh whether a vaccine mandate is implemented to usher in a return to some level of normalcy during the pandemic. The president of the Association of American Colleges and Universities, Lynn Pasquerella, recently told NBC News, “I’m just starting to hear discussion about mandating vaccines, and everyone I’ve talked to has said that they are leaning in the direction of mandating vaccines not just with the students, but with faculty and staff, as well.”
Vaccine requirements for students are not unprecedented. Currently, New York state law requires higher education institutions to require students show proof of immunity against measles, mumps, and rubella.
Other New York City universities have not made announcements about vaccine mandates. New York University has “strongly encouraged” getting vaccinated and is “examining the issue of mandating vaccinations,” university spokesperson John Beckman said on Sunday.
The City University of New York is encouraging students, faculty, staff, and alumni to get vaccinated as soon as they’re eligible under a new campaign to combat misinformation about the vaccine and stress the importance of it among communities of color, who have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic. Columbia University is also urging everyone eligible to get the dose.
This article has been updated with additional information from New York University.