Coming back vaxxed: Colleges, workplaces mandate COVID vaccines

College student walks on campus.
Erinn English walks on the campus of the University of Michigan.

Thousands of Americans will have to receive the “Fauci ouchie,” otherwise known as the COVID-19 vaccine, before heading back to work or school.

More than 700 colleges and universities nationwide have announced a vaccine mandate according to the Chronicle of Higher Education, but who will be required to receive a vaccine varies by school. More than half of the schools have asked all students and employees to be vaccinated, regardless of where they will be learning or working. Another 42% of the schools are requiring vaccines for all students, but they haven’t publicly announced a mandate for employees.

“From a medical and safety standpoint, it’s a good idea to keep everyone protected,” said Erinn English, a fifth-year nursing student at the University of Michigan.

On the other hand, very few institutions are only requiring for their employees to be vaccinated, like Jacksonville University, which is asking for vaccination proof for on-campus employees, and the University of Miami, which is requiring vaccines for all employees. The Chronicle of Higher Education has found that only Oakland University in Michigan and Chicago State University are solely mandating the shots for students living on campus and employees.

At the University of Michigan, masks and COVID vaccines are required for everyone, but the university has made exceptions for those who can’t wear a mask or get vaccinated for a medical or religious reason. People who are unvaccinated will have to take weekly COVID tests during the school year.

English, who’s fully-vaccinated, supports the push to require others to get the jab as a safety measure. However, she’s not sure the university’s administration has the means to execute its plan properly.

“At this point, it’s just like an honor system,” she said. “We don’t know who is [being] completely honest.”

English said she’s seen people enter fake lot numbers, which identify the batch a vaccine came from, on COVID-19 vaccination cards when submitting vaccine proof to the university.

Michigan assistant professor Terri Laws has heard from vaccine-hesitant community members through her research surrounding race, religion and health disparities. But ultimately, she still finds the university’s vaccine requirement to be medically ethical because of how the pandemic has disproportionately affected Black Americans.

“I am confident in the scientists that developed this vaccine ... and I think this is our best way forward,” she said. “This isn’t just what I study. This is what I believe.”

Public universities’ pandemic freedoms — and restrictions — are largely at the mercy of the state governments because Republican governors, like Florida’s Ron DeSantis and Texas’ Greg Abbott, have banned vaccine mandates for publicly-funded entities. But courts have allowed private businesses more leeway to legally make their own COVID-conscious mandates. 

As a result, large technology, finance and hospitality companies, mostly in Democratic-leaning states, have been at the forefront of vaccine requirements. 

Silicon Valley giants Cisco, Facebook and Google have all mandated vaccines for their employees who are returning to the office.

Disney has also required COVID-19 shots for workers, and the company is tinkering a deal to include union members in the mandate.

Union Square Hospitality Group, which owns more than a dozen New York-based restaurants, will ask for proof of COVID vaccination from workers as well as indoor diners.

Although the U.S. is experiencing record-high COVID cases, hospitalizations and deaths, most secondary schools and companies are slow to roll out vaccine requirements for their employees.

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