As higher education institutions across the country wrestle with how best to safely return campuses to in-person instruction, the American College Health Association (“ACHA”) has issued important new recommendations related to COVID-19 remediation. As a strategy for enhancing campus safety in the face of the ongoing global pandemic, the ACHA is recommending that institutions implement a COVID-19 vaccine mandate covering all on-campus students arriving for the fall term, subject to supply limitations or conflicting state law.
In issuing this recommendation, the ACHA observed that such a vaccine mandate “offers the most effective way for institutions of higher education to return to a safe, robust on-campus experience.” Further, the ACHA observed that such a mandate is in keeping with current practice on most campuses, which already have certain vaccine mandates in place.
The ACHA noted that its recommendation is buoyed by the expectation that the Food and Drug Administration ("FDA") will convert existing vaccines from an emergency use authorization status (“EUA”) to full approval by fall. At the same time, it is observed that even the current EUA status should not “preclude an institutional vaccine requirement.”
ACHA recommendations further encourage institutions to: engage in appropriate educational communications related to the vaccine; consider how best to support students coming from regions of the globe that do not have access to an FDA-approved vaccine; and evenly apply appropriate vaccine mandate exemptions.
While a campus vaccine mandate may offer campuses a vital tool in the return to safe, in-person instruction, it is important that policies implementing such a strategy be equitable and consistent. Further, institutions should ensure that they have an exemption review process in place to address requests for medical and religious exemptions from any vaccination requirement. Of course, it is likely that some mandates will face public and, perhaps, legal scrutiny.