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University of Hawaii reverses course, will allow unvaccinated to attend classes in fall

The University of Hawaii announced today that it will not require students to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 in order to attend in-person classes on its campuses this fall, as originally anticipated.

The newest development is due to results from recent surveys that found more than 92% of UH students and 95% of UH employees of the 10-campus system have already been or plan to be vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus.

In mid-May, UH announced all students needed to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 to attend in -person classes on campus, with the condition that at least one vaccine was fully approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

But that has not yet occurred, according to UH president David Lassner in his monthly report to the Board of Regents today. Lassner said UH enforcement of the vaccination requirement to attend in-person classes will only take place after a vaccine receives full FDA approval, no sooner than the Spring 2022 semester.

The Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines currently administered in Hawaii are done so under emergency use authorization by the FDA, although their efforts to obtain full approval are underway.

“Given the high rate of vaccination within our community and new guidelines that we’re finalizing now,” he said, “we’re confident that our campuses will be safe places to teach, learn, live, and conduct research.”

UH still plans, however, to keep the COVID-19 vaccination in place for health clearance requirements, and will enforce vaccines for students who live in on-campus housing at UH-Manoa and UH-Hilo this fall. Health and religious exemptions will be available for student residents.

UH also plans to enforce vaccinations against the coronavirus for “other specific activities, events and facilities to be determined.” These may include sports, plays or live music events indoors, but have yet to be determined.

Those who remain unvaccinated may face other limitations, according to UH, but will not be prevented from enrolling in on-campus classes. UH will also assist anyone in getting a COVID-19 vaccine, if interested.

New safety guidelines outlining practices to protect all students and employees will be released before the fall semester begins Aug. 23.

“The single most important thing our students and employees can do to protect the health and well-being of themselves, their families and our campus communities is to be fully vaccinated for the upcoming fall semester,” said Lassner. “159 million Americans have safely received the vaccine, and we are now seeing a growing number of preventable COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths among the unvaccinated. We are leaving the requirement in place, even if not fully enforced, to make the message clear.”

Face coverings will still be required while indoors on campus and all students, employees, and visitors will still be required to utilize the LumiSight UH health check app, which now includes the ability to demonstrate vaccination status.

The university is planning a followup vaccination survey of all students in mid-August.

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