Maine colleges won't require COVID-19 vaccinations for students

Rachel Ohm, Portland Press Herald, Maine
·4 min read

Mar. 30—Some Maine colleges and universities say they will strongly encourage students to get vaccinated against COVID-19 but have no plans right now to require immunizations.

"We are monitoring this very closely and will make a decision once the vaccine is no longer approved under emergency use," Sarah Delage, a spokeswoman for the University of New England, said in an email Tuesday. "In the meantime, plans are underway to intensify our public education efforts to strongly encourage all students and employees to get vaccinated as soon as the vaccine is available to them."

The University of Maine System also is encouraging students and staff to get vaccinated but will not require the vaccine while it is under emergency use authorization, said Dan Demeritt, a spokesman for the system. "We strongly encourage vaccination and could require it in the future based on a change in the approval status or other developments," he said.

Many colleges and universities already ask students to be immunized for diseases such as meningitis, measles and hepatitis. Maine law requires all degree-seeking students and full-time non-degree seeking students born after Dec. 31, 1956, to provide proof of immunization against tetanus and measles.

Last week Rutgers University in New Jersey said it would require all students to be vaccinated against COVID-19 before returning for the fall 2021 semester, making it among the first universities to do so.

"There is a great deal of conversation on campuses across the United States related to this issue and as we know Rutgers has been a lead in saying they're going to require it," said Anita Barkin, co-chair of the COVID-19 task force for the American College Health Association in Maryland, a group dedicated to advocacy and education on health issues impacting college students.

Some campuses are awaiting full U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval, rather than emergency use authorization, before deciding whether to require vaccines, while others are assessing the available supply and whether their states will come out with guidance or laws about requiring the vaccine, Barkin said.

"Obviously this is going to be a conversation that needs to occur with the administration, public health officials and college health professionals on the campus," she said. "They're having conversations around whether to require it and then how that requirement will work. Do you have to be required before the start of the fall term? Will it be offered on campus if students haven't been vaccinated? Will campuses try to vaccinate students before they leave from the spring term?"

The FDA does not have a prediction for how long it will take the manufacturers of the three available COVID vaccines to submit biologics license applications for permission to introduce a biologic product into interstate commerce, but a spokeswoman for Pfizer said the company is hoping to file data for the license next month and a spokeswoman for Johnson & Johnson said the company plans to file its application "later in 2021."

A media contact for Moderna did not respond to questions about its timeline for moving beyond emergency use authorization.

At Bowdoin College, officials have said they expect all students arriving on campus in the fall will have been vaccinated but have not yet made a decision on whether to make it a requirement. "As we've said on our website, it's our expectation that all students will arrive on campus in the fall having already been vaccinated, and that faculty and staff will also have been vaccinated (excepting those individuals who qualify for legal exemptions) and we hope they do so as soon as they're eligible," said Doug Cook, a Bowdoin spokesman.

The college is in discussions with Mid Coast Hospital in Brunswick about scheduling vaccinations for students before the end of the semester and is prepared to provide transportation to Mid Coast's vaccination clinic at the Brunswick Recreation Center. Most students will become eligible April 19 when the state opens up vaccinations to all residents 16 and older.

Saint Joseph's College in Standish and Bates College in Lewiston are considering offering vaccines on campus if they can get doses from the state.

"We require childhood vaccines, while the annual flu vaccines are strongly encouraged (and offered on campus)," Saint Joseph's spokesman Oliver Griswold said in an email. "We will do the same with the COVID vaccine — strongly encouraging everyone in our community to get it (through a campaign that runs over multiple communications channels), and providing it on campus if we receive doses from the state."

At Bates, spokeswoman Mary Pols said the college recently received confirmation from the CDC that out-of-state students, including international students, who reside in Maine to attend college will be eligible for vaccines and is encouraging all members of the campus community to get vaccinated.

"If the state provides Bates with vaccines to administer to our students, faculty and staff, we are prepared to host a clinic for members of the Bates community," Pols said. "Our testing center at Underhill Arena has been used for several vaccination clinics hosted by United Ambulance, so we have a location on campus that we could use. But at this time, we do not have a specific plan to host a clinic."