Following the College of St. Scholastica and the University of Minnesota system’s decisions to add the COVID-19 vaccine to their lists of required vaccinations for students, the full details of those plans have emerged and students who don’t comply will not be allowed to register for future classes.
While Katelyn Adamich, a third-year student at St. Scholastica, wishes the college's deadline of Oct. 22 for students to prove their vaccination status was a little sooner, she also thinks it's a fair time frame for those experiencing hesitancy.
“It brought some relief to me,” Adamich said of the requirement. “The vaccine is something that's safe and effective and they're doing it to help students and keep them safe."
Anna Silvis, a first-year student at St. Scholastica, said she was already packed and ready to move to campus when she learned the college would be requiring students to be vaccinated against COVID-19. She briefly contemplated backing out of her decision to attend, but decided to try to file an exemption and said she will likely transfer if it comes to it.
"I don't know that they would change my mind,” Silvis said when asked if she plans to discuss her hesitations with student health services staff, who are encouraging concerned students to visit them with their questions.
"I don't want to get the vaccine out of fear and I don't want to not get it out of pride,” Silvis said.
She’s still trying to figure out her middle ground.
Returning St. Scholastica students have to submit a picture of their vaccine card and share it with student health services staff, said Laura Johnson, associate director of communications for the college. Any incoming student was already required to provide an immunization record, which would now include any COVID-19 vaccination.
Classes at St. Scholastica started Tuesday and the college has already hosted three on-campus vaccine clinics and is planning more ahead of the Oct. 22 deadline.
"We wanted to make sure that they could be aware of this, wrap their heads around it," Johnson said of the generous timeframe. "We have an obligation to make sure that they have easy access to receiving that vaccination on campus."
The University of Minnesota system asks students to complete an online vaccination form that requires them to provide the type of vaccine they received and when or submit an exemption.
“There is no requirement for proof. You could easily lie,” said Charis Blacklock, a third-year student at the University of Minnesota Duluth.
“I kind of thought the same thing,” fourth-year UMD student Nora Steinmetz said. “I was expecting them to ask for a photo of my card.”
UMD spokesperson Lynne Williams said students who provide misleading information are in violation of a student conduct code and subject to sanctions.
“Our previous immunization requirements, which COVID is modeled upon, require the same certification process by the student,” Williams said. “We have found this model to be effective. It gives students a consistent straightforward way to meet requirements.”
Minnesota Immunization Information Connection, the state’s immunization information system, stores vaccination records, regardless of where a person received a vaccine in the state.
Both Blacklock and Steinmetz were pleased when they learned that students at UMD would be required to get the COVID-19 vaccine, especially, Blacklock said, knowing that the delta variant is spreading and college-aged people are playing a role in that.
“Anything to help,” Blacklock said.
Third-year student Tyler Davis said he was excited because it meant classes were much more likely to remain in person.
Of the dozen UMD students the News Tribune randomly interviewed, all were in support of the vaccine requirement and had been vaccinated prior to the announcement, but students like Sam Ringger said there is a swath of students against it, including some of his friends.
“They’re going through with it,” Ringger said. “They’re just not happy with it.”
Acceptable exemptions at both UMD and St. Scholastica include health reasons with a health care provider’s signature or a notarized religious reason.
At UMD, students who don’t complete the vaccination form by Oct. 8 will be prohibited from registering for future classes. Exempt students are not required to submit to regular COVID-19 testing.
St. Scholastica students who have not provided proof of their vaccine status by the Oct. 22 deadline and don’t have an approved medical or religious exemption, which they must file by Sept. 15, will not be allowed to enroll in spring courses. Students with an exemption must comply with weekly COVID-19 self-testing.
As of last week, nearly 80% of UMD students who responded to a survey asking for their vaccination status reported that they were fully vaccinated, U of M President Joan Gabel said in a letter to all five campuses. Systemwide, only about 37% of students had responded to the survey in the first week.
Among faculty and staff, 97% reported being fully vaccinated with a response rate greater than 70%.
“What is most evident from our response rates is the seriousness with which our community takes this pandemic and the importance we place on being vaccinated — the most important step in making a rewarding fall semester possible for all of us,” Gabel said.
Neither school is requiring its employees to receive a COVID-19 vaccination because employees weren’t already under an immunization requirement, though that could change.
“It's possible that the college might explore a requirement for employees,” Johnson, at St. Scholastica, said. “We're in the midst of a global pandemic so it's hard to use the justification, ‘This is the way it's always been done.’ Because we know we're in really unprecedented times right now.”