As COVID-19 cases climb in the U.S. fueled by the more infectious delta variant, colleges continue to encourage or mandate those on their campuses to be vaccinated against the coronavirus. Some institutions are announcing strategies like scholarship drawings to incentivize vaccination.
Colleges should be requiring coronavirus vaccines, the editor-in-chief of the Science journals, H. Holden Thorp, wrote in a recent editorial. Unvaccinated students could facilitate the virus's spread, Thorp wrote.
Institutions developing mitigation strategies for the fall will also have to account for some states blocking vaccine requirements. Thorp called for college and government officials to move forward with mandates and "take a stand regardless of the political consequences for the institutions."
Hundreds of colleges are already requiring their students and employees to be vaccinated against the coronavirus for the fall.
But other institutions are still releasing and changing their plans for the coming academic year. The Vermont State Colleges System's governing board voted last week to require students at three of its four institutions to get the shot, the Associated Press reported. Students at the Community College of Vermont and those who are exclusively taking online courses are exempted. The University of Vermont instituted a similar vaccine requirement earlier this month.
Other colleges aren't prescribing that students be vaccinated but are pressing them to do so. The University of Pittsburgh said last week it is "strongly advising" students and employees to get vaccinated as soon as possible. University officials said enforcing a vaccine requirement would not be feasible, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported.
Schools continue to incentivize students to get the vaccine. The University of Wisconsin System said it would offer 70 vaccinated students $7,000 scholarships in a drawing. But only students on campuses that have 70% or more of their populations vaccinated by Oct. 15 would be eligible. Students at the state's flagship institution, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, would also be excluded because it is developing its own rewards for vaccines.
And a Missouri community college, Metropolitan Community College, said it would give away a free class to 1,000 vaccinated students for the coming semester.
One barrier to colleges requiring the vaccine is that some state leaders have banned such mandates, including in Ohio and Arizona. Thorp in his editorial wrote that these states are imposing an "aura of uncertainty" on some of their colleges, which could fear outbreaks.
For campuses without vaccine mandates, testing for the virus isn't enough, Thorp wrote.
If students are catching the cold or flu and displaying symptoms, it will be difficult to assure a campus that doesn't require vaccines that it's not experiencing a COVID-19 outbreak, Thorp wrote.
These illnesses could compound health problems for unvaccinated students who come down with the coronavirus. "This could lead to closures or substantial restrictions that could have easily been avoided if a vaccine mandate were in place," Thorp wrote.