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Regents Won't Mandate COVID-19 Vaccinations At Iowa's Public Universities

Amanda Bordeaux, 36, gets her second dose of the Pfizer vaccine during a weekly mass vaccination clinic at the Rosebud hospital in South Dakota.
Kirk Siegler
/
NPR
Amanda Bordeaux, 36, gets her second dose of the Pfizer vaccine during a weekly mass vaccination clinic at the Rosebud hospital in South Dakota.

Students and employees at Iowa’s three public universities will not be required to get the COVID-19 vaccine, the president of the Board of Regents announced at a meeting Wednesday.

A small but growing number of colleges and universities across the country are requiring that students get vaccinated against COVID before they return to campus in the fall. Officials have argued it’s the safest and best way to resume campus life without triggering the outbreaks that plagued many schools earlier on in the pandemic.

According to NPR, more than a dozen schools have opted to mandate the vaccinations, from Rutgers University in New Jersey to Duke University in North Carolina to the University of Notre Dame in Indiana.

But Board of Regents president Michael Richards says students and employees at Iowa’s three public universities won’t face any such mandate.

“I’d like to make it clear that while we continue to strongly encourage members of our campus community to get vaccinated, the regents universities will not be mandating vaccinations for any student [or] employees now or for the 2021-22 academic year,” Richards said.

Colleges and universities have long mandated that students receive certain vaccinations before coming to campus, such as the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) and meningitis shots. The inoculations are seen as vital to protect students and the broader community from the infectious diseases, which can take hold in close quarters and spread far beyond the confines of dining halls and dorm rooms, with sometimes deadly consequences.

The same concerns apply to the coronavirus, which according to a New York Times data tracker as of Wednesday afternoon had killed 5,858 Iowans and infected 357,739, some 30 percent of whom providers anticipate may develop long-term symptoms of the illness, a condition which may prove debilitating for some.

But as with so much about the pandemic and government efforts to slow the spread of the virus, the efforts to vaccinate the American people in record time have become politicized. According to public polling, hesitancy around getting vaccinated is starkly divided along partisan lines. An NPR / PBS NewsHour / Marist poll released last month indicated that nearly half of Republican men and Trump supporters say they won’t get vaccinated, making them the group most opposed to the shot.

Speaking Wednesday, Richards made a point of underscoring his own confidence in the efficacy of the vaccines and encouraged students, faculty and staff to get the shot. But he made clear it won’t be required.

“I strongly believe in the effectiveness of the vaccines,” Richards said. “We will continue to make them available and we encourage people to get vaccinated, but they will not be required at our three universities.”

Regardless of the announcement Wednesday, the state’s regents universities are continuing to coordinate on-campus vaccine drives for students and employees, efforts which may be slowed by the decision this week to pause the administration of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, as federal officials do further investigation of reports that six women experienced rare and potentially dangerous blood clots after receiving the shot.