Colleges and Universities Boost their COVID Booster Requirements

The U.S. added more than 1 million people to its COVID-19 case count on January 2, the single-day record for new cases for any country in the world, according to Bloomberg. That is even more alarming than the surging cases is that many Americans are taking home tests and not reporting results to authorities, so the actual number is likely much higher than this.

Due to the significant Covid-19 infection rate, exacerbated by the Omicron variant, many companies are reversing their back-to-work policies and urging employees to continue or resume working from home until further notice. Similarly, many higher education institutions are beginning the spring semester with online-only teaching and learning, at least for the first week or two – but they’re considering a more extended remote model if virus spread doesn’t slow by the end of January.  

More than 1,000 U.S. colleges and universities currently require all staff and students to be fully vaccinated before returning to campus. But now that the virus is getting its second (or third) wind, The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends a third dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 or Moderna vaccines for individuals 16 years and older – and institutions are scrambling to incorporate the new guidance into their spring semester back-to-campus pandemic response plans.

So far, 61 colleges and universities are requiring students, faculty, staff and visitors to get the booster shots. Wesleyan University was the first, announcing that it requires boosters for spring 2022 as early as late November. The school requires students, faculty and staff to upload a copy of their updated vaccination card to the university’s WesPortal, citing the date of the shot, no later than Friday, January 14. Wesleyan also referred students to the community health center for booster clinics in early December.

Some schools are requiring the booster, but granting a grace period between the beginning of the semester and the deadline date. At Georgetown University, students, faculty, staff and visitors have to receive their booster by January 21, just more than a week after the first day of classes on January 12. As with most other universities requiring the booster shot, Georgetown accepts religious or medical exemptions.

Union College is pairing a one-week remote instruction start to its spring semester that began on January 3 with a booster mandate. The school is giving students, faculty and staff a booster deadline of a week after in-person classes start on January 10.

Some institutions had very high vaccination rates among their student body. At Davidson College, 99 percent of students were fully vaccinated during the fall semester. The college is requiring a COVID booster for those who had their primary shot more than six months ago in order to return for the spring semester, and is asking students to get the booster as soon as they become eligible.

While students are required to get boosters at Smith College,  the school will give staff and faculty time off if they develop reactions after the shot. Effective January 21, 2022, the college will require students, staff and faculty to get their booster shot within 30 days of becoming eligible. Students must upload a copy of their complete vaccination card to the school’s patient portal by January 21. The college held a booster clinic for students in mid-December. Employees are awaiting notification of their booster information requirements and upload instructions, and the college will offer one day of paid leave to support employees who develop immune system complications from the jab.

On December 27, the CDC updated and shortened the recommended isolation and quarantine period for those who test positive for COVID-19. Now, people with the virus or who have been exposed to anyone with COVID-19 should isolate for five days if they are asymptomatic or symptoms resolve, followed by five days of mask-wearing when around others. The College of William & Mary is not only requiring a booster before January 18, 2022, but is updating its quarantine and isolation requirements to be consistent with the CDC guidelines.

For more articles in this series on how colleges and universities are handling COVID mandates, see:

How COVID is Helping Higher Ed Find Technology’s Goldilocks Scenario

Colleges and Universities Vary on Spring Semester Opening Plans

Universities Respond to Increasing New COVID Threats