Leading universities mull mandatory vaccine policies

Vice-chancellors say they are considering what to do if members of their community refuse Covid-19 inoculation 

January 28, 2021
vaccine needle inoculation injection
Source: iStock

University leaders are considering whether to make Covid-19 vaccination a requirement for students and staff, with some suggesting that anti-vaxxers within the university community were a growing concern.

Carol Christ, chancellor of the University of California, Berkeley, said that the institution was “requiring all of our employees and students to take a vaccine education online module”, while it has been “having the conversation about whether we [will] require the vaccine for employees”.

She was responding to a question on whether universities were considering issuing vaccine passports to allow their students to travel more freely during a debate on universities in a post-Covid world, organised by the Central European University (CEU). On that specific question, she said she thought vaccine passports would be issued, but they would be “state controlled, not university controlled”.

Michael Ignatieff, president of the CEU, who chaired the discussion, said that “institutions may have to make vaccines mandatory”.

“I just don’t know how we can operate institutions [otherwise]. The epidemiological risk is too high would be my off-the-top-of-my-head judgement,” he said.

Louise Richardson, vice-chancellor of the University of Oxford, said that her institution was grappling with the question of “what do you do if some members of your community refuse to accept a vaccine”, noting that there was a strong anti-vaccine movement in many countries. However, she said she did not have a settled answer yet.

“I was asked this at an open forum with all our staff: what are we going to do to all those who, the way the question put it, jeopardise the health of their colleagues by refusing to get a vaccine? I’m afraid I put it back to them and said: ‘What do you think we should do?’ because I think it’s a really tough question.”

Regarding the idea of university-issued vaccine passports to allow travel, Professor Richardson said that “by the time it comes to our students being vaccinated, I think these issues will all be resolved on a national level”, given that students were generally a low priority for vaccination.

Many governments are considering whether to introduce vaccine passports as a way to reopen international borders and encourage a resumption of travel, but there have been several concerns with such a policy, including whether vaccinated people can still spread the virus and whether it would create a social divide and entrench inequality.



Print headline: HE leaders mull mandatory vaccine policies

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