Universities that adopted COVID-19 vaccine mandates this fall have seen widespread compliance even though many schools made it easy to get out of the shots by granting exemptions to nearly any student who requested one.
Facing pockets of resistance and scattered lawsuits, colleges have tread carefully as forcing students to get the vaccine when they have a religious or medical objection could put schools into tricky legal territory. For some, there are added concerns that taking a hard line could lead to a drop in enrollment.
Still, universities with mandates report much higher vaccination rates than communities around them, even in places with high vaccine hesitancy. Some universities have seen nearly complete compliance, including at state flagship schools in Maryland, Illinois and Washington, helping them avoid large outbreaks like those that disrupted classes a year ago.
Most of the nation’s largest public universities aren’t seeing large numbers of student exemption requests, according to an analysis by The Associated Press. At the same time, those colleges have approved the vast majority — in some cases all — of the requests.
At Virginia Tech University, where 95% of students are now vaccinated, the school granted all of the 1,600 exemption requests from students as long as they agreed to weekly testing.
At least 1,100 colleges and universities now require proof of COVID-19 vaccines, according to tracking by The Chronicle of Higher Education.
Also in the news:
►About 900,000 kids aged 5 to 11 will have received their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine in their first week of eligibility, the White House said Wednesday, providing the first glimpse at the pace of the school-aged vaccination campaign.
►Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee said Wednesday he plans to sign a sweeping legislative package curtailing the authority public schools, local health agencies and businesses have over COVID-19 restrictions.
📈Today’s numbers: The U.S. has recorded more than 46 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and more than 758,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. Global totals: More than 251 million cases and 5 million deaths. More than 194 million Americans — 58% of the population — are fully vaccinated, according to the CDC.
📘 What we’re reading: If you’re taking your child to get vaccinated against COVID-19 soon, experts say some approaches can make it easier.
A federal judge ruled Wednesday that Gov. Greg Abbott’s executive order that bans schools from imposing mask mandates cannot be enforced because it violates federal law by putting students with disabilities at greater risk.
U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel also blocked Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton from bringing legal action against school districts that require students, teachers and staff to wear face coverings as a pandemic safety measure.
The evidence, Yeakel wrote, shows that wearing masks can decrease the risk of spreading COVID-19 — a particularly useful strategy for children with disabilities who can be at higher risk of contracting respiratory disease and from suffering more severe symptoms.
“Because GA-38 precludes mask requirements in schools, (students with disabilities) are either forced out of in-person learning altogether or must take on unnecessarily greater health and safety risks than their nondisabled peers,” Yeakel wrote.
Tom Melsheimer, a Dallas lawyer who represented the students and their families, praised the ruling.
“Going forward, school districts all over the state will be free to follow sound medical science and common sense to protect the most vulnerable among us. Who can reasonably object to such a result?” Melsheimer said.
— Chuck Lindell, Austin American-Statesman
Contributing: The Associated Press