Two higher education agencies in Illinois released guidance Monday suggesting all public and private colleges in the state mandate coronavirus vaccinations to slow or prevent transmission around their campuses.
The Illinois Board of Higher Education and the Illinois Community College Board also encouraged colleges to promote the shots on their campuses and address vaccine hesitancy.
Vaccines are the best way to prevent COVID-19, the boards said in their guidance. They said vaccination requirements should include "appropriate exemptions."
The Illinois guidance comes as the struggle over coronavirus mitigation measures — especially vaccination requirements — plays out in state legislatures, courtrooms and colleges across the country. Lawmakers in several states have sought to ban campus vaccine requirements, even as many colleges have implemented them for the fall term.
Illinois, which has one of the highest college enrollment levels in the country, joins the ranks of other states that have greenlit coronavirus vaccine mandates on college campuses.
Virginia's attorney general, for instance, issued an opinion in late April saying the state's higher education institutions can require students to get vaccines to be on campus. Meanwhile, Indiana's attorney general wrote an opinion in May contending colleges could mandate students to get the vaccines but were barred by a recently passed state law from asking for proof of vaccination as a condition of employment or enrollment.
So far, more than 580 campuses are requiring the vaccines for at least some students or faculty members for the fall term, according to The Chronicle of Higher Education. However, some of those mandates depend on one of the three available vaccines in the U.S. receiving full approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration — which may not arrive before the fall term starts.
The Illinois guidance also follows a recent ruling from a federal judge who upheld Indiana University's vaccine mandate, dealing a blow to a group of students who argued the requirement violated their constitutional rights.
A federal judge on Sunday upheld Indiana University's own vaccine mandate in what appears to be the first ruling affirming such a requirement. Eight students had sued the university over its mandate, referencing that the vaccines do not yet have full FDA approval.
Several campuses in Illinois had already announced they would be requiring students to get the shots to return to campus, including the entire University of Illinois system and Northwestern University.
At least eight other states have passed legislation banning colleges from requiring the shots or proof of vaccination, according to The Wall Street Journal, creating a patchwork of vaccine policies in the higher education sector.
Even different public college systems within the same states are split. The University of California system announced it will require the vaccines even though they've only been approved under Emergency Use Authorization, which allows them to be distributed quickly during a health crisis. Meanwhile, the California State University system said it will wait for full FDA approval to implement a mandate.