Students enrolled in the University of Hawaii System in the fall will be required to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 in order to attend in-person classes or be on any of the system’s 10 campuses, the university announced Monday.
The requirement will take effect when at least one of the three COVID-19 vaccines currently authorized for emergency use has received full approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which could happen this summer.
“It is clear that a vaccinated campus is a safer campus for everyone, and a fully vaccinated student community enables the best opportunity for a healthy return to high-quality face-to-face teaching, learning and research,” UH President David Lassner said in a news release.
Lassner said the decision “does not come lightly” and is based on guidance from the university’s own Health and Well- Being Working Group and the recommendation of the American College Health Association.
Unvaccinated UH students will still be able to enroll in online courses and participate in student activities virtually.
The University of Hawaii System joins a growing list of colleges and universities throughout the country that are requiring students to be vaccinated, including the University of California and California State University.
Schools such as Brown University and Duke University announced student vaccines would be required as early as April, and since then an increasing number of schools have followed. So far, more than 360 campuses are requiring students be vaccinated for the fall semester, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education, which is keeping track.
UH appears to be the only school so far in Hawaii to require students be vaccinated in order to return to campus. Other schools, such as Chaminade University, are strongly encouraging vaccinations but not requiring them.
Hawaii Pacific University still hasn’t decided, Stephen Ward, a spokesman for the university, said by email.
“We evaluate potential policy on our own schedule and will be in communication with our students, faculty and staff as we move into summer,” he said. “We will continue in-person on-campus this fall, as we did through this entire past academic year.”
As the vaccine becomes available to increasing numbers of young people, discussions also have begun about whether states can or should be mandating the coronavirus vaccine for students enrolled in elementary, middle and high schools. The vaccine is currently available to children 12 and up, an age threshold that’s expected to drop as vaccine companies continue to do more studies.
Gov. David Ige, in an interview on Spotlight Hawaii on Monday, however, indicated that Hawaii wasn’t moving in that direction, at least not for now. Ultimately, it would be up to the state Department of Health to amend school vaccination requirements.
“We don’t at this point in time have plans to require vaccinations for public school students, or for private school students, for that matter,” he said.
Schools throughout the country have long required students to obtain certain vaccinations in order to enroll.
UH, which enrolls approximately 50,000 graduate and undergraduate students, requires that students receive the MMR vaccine, which protects against measles, mumps and rubella, the Tdap vaccine, which can prevent tetanus, diptheria and pertussis, and the varicella vaccine. Meningococcal Conjugate vaccinations are also required for first-year students who plan to live in on-campus housing. Students must also be tested for tuberculosis.
As with the current vaccine requirements, UH students will be allowed to request exemptions from the COVID-19 vaccine for medical or religious reasons.
Students who receive an exemption will be allowed on campus, but the details of how that would work are still being determined. For example, unvaccinated students might have to test for the virus once a week, according to UH officials.
This past academic year, there were 958 religious exemptions and 37 medical exemptions granted, comprising about 2% of the student body, suggesting that the demand for COVID-19 vaccine exemptions also could end up being low.
UH’s announcement adds momentum to the state’s efforts to get more young people vaccinated, but the university stopped short Monday of requiring its approximately 10,000 employees to be immunized as well, a policy a smaller number of colleges and universities have adopted as they prepare for the fall school year.
Lassner said he planned to initiate formal discussions with the three unions that represent university employees about implementing such a requirement.
Christian Fern, executive director of the University of Hawaii Professional Assembly, which represents university faculty, said the matter would have to be negotiated through the collective bargaining process.
It “is important that we move forward carefully to ensure we balance public health and safety with individual choice and an individual’s existing health condition,” Fern said in a statement.
A spokeswoman for the Hawaii Government Employees Association said it would be premature to comment on the matter, while the United Public Workers of Hawaii didn’t respond to a request for comment.
In the meantime UH is encouraging students to get vaccinated now.
“We wanted to get word out there now so that our students would know they should get vaccinated and know that they will be coming back to a safe UH campus, whichever UH campus they attend,” said Lassner. “And we’ve had many inquiries from parents who are concerned and want to see a vaccination requirement so that they know that their child will be coming to a safe campus.”
GET A VACCINATION
There are multiple ways to find a vaccine location or schedule an appointment.
>> Residents can find vaccine locations throughout Hawaii via the state’s COVID-19 portal at hawaiicovid 19.com/vaccination- registration.
>> Text your ZIP code to the number 438829 to find nearby locations offering the vaccine.