NY Requires Vaccination for Public University Students

While the Covid-19 vaccination requirement for all in-person students applies only to those in the State University of New York system, Governor Andrew Cuomo encouraged private institutions to follow his lead. 

On New York’s Upper West Side, the American Museum of Natural History is home to its own subway station and, in 2021, a Covid-19 vaccination center. (Barbara Leonard photo/Courthouse News)

BROOKLYN, N.Y. (CN) — New York’s public university system will require all in-person students to get a Covid-19 vaccine before the fall semester, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced on Monday. 

The State University of New York is among the largest university systems in the country. Nearly 400,000 students were enrolled in SUNY’s fall 2020 semester, according to the SUNY website

Cuomo said that requiring Covid-19 vaccination as a condition to return to the classroom will be “major motivation to get the vaccine.”

The governor encouraged private colleges and universities to require vaccinations as well.

“Let’s make a global statement: You cannot go back to school in-person in September unless you have a vaccine,” Cuomo said. 

Scott Nazinitsky is a sophomore at Binghamton University. He told Courthouse News he’s in favor of the new requirement, and “happy that we’re taking a step to be back to in-person learning.” 

The mandate doesn’t make a difference to Nazinitsky personally, he said, since he is already vaccinated. 

Nazinitsky estimated that 50% of his friends have already gotten their shots, making them on par with the national average: Half of people ages 18-29 have gotten at least one shot, according to recent survey data

More so than any other age group, about a quarter of younger people say they still want to “wait and see” how the vaccine is working. But Nazinitsky said his classmates are likely holding out for more practical reasons. 

“I think those who haven’t mostly have just been too lazy to get it,” Nazinitsy said. “But now that they have to, they probably will do it, so that they can be fully immune by next fall.” 

The upcoming mandate, Cuomo noted Monday, is conditional. It will only be enforced if, by September, the FDA has given full approval to a Covid-19 vaccine beyond the current emergency use authorization. 

“Otherwise, SUNY [and the City University of New York] could not mandate,” Cuomo said, “if it doesn’t have the full approval.” 

“We believe they will do that in the near future,” he said.

Cuomo did not clarify which vaccines would need full approval in order for the SUNY student vaccination mandate to take effect. 

On Friday, Pfizer began its submission to the FDA to get approval of its vaccine, which was the first to be allowed in the United States. The total process could take several months. 

As vaccination rates plateau across the country, health experts say employers, universities and businesses may begin to require proof of a Covid-19 vaccination. 

“Once the vaccine gets full FDA approval, I think that some employers might be more comfortable with a mandate in place as a condition of employment,” Dr. Amesh Adalja, a physician and senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, told Courthouse News recently. 

Adalja said that the goal with managing Covid-19 continues to be managing the public health concern that flooded emergency rooms last year, and has killed more than half a million Americans. 

But even with the virus under control from a sweeping public health standpoint, Covid-19 can hamper businesses and schools. 

“If I were a company, or if I were a school administrator, I would want my community to be the highest vaccinated as possible, because I don’t want to deal with the disruption from Covid-19,” Adalja said. 

New York follows the lead of the University of California and California State University systems, which last week announced a vaccine mandate for students, faculty and staff — also on the condition that the FDA fully approves one or more vaccines by the fall. 

The two California campus networks together enroll and employ more than a million people. 

Cuomo also announced on Monday that New York will drop its state citizenship requirement for those who want to get vaccinated in the state. 

“Anyone from out of state can get a vaccine in New York,” Cuomo said. “So if you’re a tourist, and you come to New York, we’ll give you a vaccine.”

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