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COVID-19 Vaccine FAQs

Important reminder: As always, check with your national organization regarding any and all COVID-19 risk management advice before proceeding.

We have recently written up our position on the ability of employers to require their employees to take the vaccine. We are also beginning to get questions about whether the sororities/fraternities will be allowed to also require their members to be vaccinated.

In December, we took the opportunity to discuss this matter with three university administrators from a public institution and one administrator from a private university, along with extensive research on this developing subject, to get a feel as to what the university community was considering on this subject of requiring its students to be vaccinated before they can continue to be on campus.

What follows are some questions and responses that we posed:

By what authority do institutions of higher education (IHEs) currently hold the power to require the vaccinations that pre-COVID were already in place?

This authority comes from each state’s Department of Health: a public institution generally follows the guidance, whereas a private institution is able to require more vaccinations than what the Department of Health addresses. There also exists a statute that allows governmental entities such as a university to engage in “all acts necessary” to preserve the health and safety of its students and employees dating back to the early 1900s.

Currently do IHEs allow for exceptions to their vaccination policy and, if so, what are they?

Yes, each administrator responded that exceptions are allowed. They are 1) for health reasons in which an individual has reason to believe it could put their health at risk and 2) for religious beliefs that are inconsistent with taking vaccines. We did hear that very few of their students seek exceptions. According to Peter H. Meyers, an emeritus professor at the George Washington University law school and previously served as director of the law school’s Vaccine Injury Litigation Clinic, 95 to 99 percent of students will not fit into the narrow categories of exemptions that are allowed.

Do you anticipate offering additional exceptions for the COVID-10 vaccinations to your faculty and staff ?

One administrator acknowledged that they anticipate allowing the faculty and staff an exemption based on what is being referred to as “philosophical disagreements” against the vaccines, which will probably not be offered to students. Another university stated that they would just consider that type of exception as a medical reservation instead of a separate item.

What do you anticipate your university will be doing this spring on requiring students be vaccinated?

It is unlikely that they will mandate vaccinations especially since drug is only being offered under an “emergency use” category and the student population won’t have access to the vaccine for some time. They do sense that the university will encourage the vaccines but not require them down the road, short of any governmental direction to the contrary.

What impediments will there be to ultimately be to actually require the vaccination of all students/faculty and administration?

The current status of the vaccination application is termed “emergency use.” In ordinary circumstances, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will then move the drugs to what is termed “standard approval,” and the masses would then be eligible to take the vaccination. There is some pretty strong concern that because of the fact that the drugs haven’t gone through the normal three-year trial period that the FDA may not any time soon declare the drug for “standard approval,” which will certainly slow the acceptance of the vaccination.

How have the IHEs handled the flu vaccination previously?

What seemed to be the consensus is that many of both the private and public institutions did in fact require flu vaccinations last fall of both students and administration/faculty with very high acceptance rates. There is doubt however that this will play out the same way with the COVID-19 vaccine.

Students won’t necessarily be considered for vaccinations until late spring/early summer timeframe, so should we consider the vaccination matter at a later point in time?

Unless the student has underlying health issues, this is likely the case.  We have read that the American College Heath Association (ACHA) has requested that the CDC Advisory Committee for Immunization Practices (ACIP) consider recommending students be vaccinated prior to the end of spring semester 2021. This addresses the students returning home and/or moving elsewhere and exposing other communities at large.

There is no question that the sororities will need to once again be familiar with what each IHE is doing as they develop their guidance for each chapter. As noted above, we may see differences develop between private and public IHEs, along with local conditions regarding the spread of the virus. Any discussion is premature until the vaccine becomes more readily available to the age grouping of college students.

We have also had some fraternal related questions that we would also like to address:

If a university requires the COVID-19 vaccination and requires proof of the inoculation, can the sorority and potentially the house corporation rely on that or should we also secure a proof?

We believe that you can rely on the university managing this risk accordingly.

What if the university choses to not require the vaccination, but we determine that it is in the best interests of the health and safety of our members to do so?

As a private organization, you will be at liberty to make these determinations. Will it become a condition of membership for the member to consider? It will be recommended that you also explore what exceptions you can offer, not unlike those that employers are obligated to offer, such as: 1) health reasons as the vaccine may pose a threat to the individual and 2) religious reasons. There does also appear that one other possible exception is being considered which is based on philosophical disagreements, but not necessarily encouraging you to incorporate. We are already hearing reservations on social media, which do not appear to have any scientific standing.

As with all things COVID, things will develop and evolve on this subject and we can hope that the IHEs make the calls that will help our clients better manage this exposure. As there are new developments, we will provide you with updates accordingly. We are also working with Michelle Anderson of isher & Phillips on some possible “templates” that may be used on this subject so look for additional information.

Please don’t hesitate to contact your Client Executive with any further questions or concerns.