(The Center Square) – Two universities in Missouri are taking different approaches to requiring Covid-19 vaccinations while legislators are attempting to end pandemic restrictions and eliminate vaccination requirements.
Washington University in St. Louis will require its 17,000 students to have a COVID-19 vaccination before fall classes begin. The University of Missouri won’t mandate vaccinations for its 27,000 students on the Columbia campus, but is encouraging all to get vaccinated. Rep. Jim Murphy, R-St. Louis, is asking Gov. Mike Parson to reopen the entire state by ending all pandemic restrictions. Rep. Suzie Pollock, R-Lebanon, attempted to eliminate vaccination requirements for students not attending public schools.
A Washington University email to all students on Wednesday stated they must be fully vaccinated before they arrive on campus for the start of their fall academic term or Aug. 30, whichever comes first. The message said the university will provide more information about an exemption process, providing vaccination verification and the availability of vaccinations on campus and in the surrounding area.
“We expect to provide more information for employees in the coming weeks, but the university continues to strongly encourage our faculty and staff to get vaccinated,” Susan Killenberg McGinn, executive director of the university’s news service, wrote in an email.
In early April, the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind., was one of the first private universities to require students to be fully vaccinated against Covid-19. During a daily briefing on Wednesday, Dr. Alex Garza, chairman of the St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force and Chief Community Health Officer for SSM Health, praised Washington University’s vaccine mandate.
“I agree with any strategy that improves the vaccination rate,” Garza said during a Facebook Live update. “It’s a safe and effective vaccine. The more people we have vaccinated, the quicker we can get back to normal.”
The University of Missouri-Columbia will not require Covid-19 vaccinations for its students in the fall, according to university spokesman Christian Basi.
“While it’s not required, we are strongly encouraging everyone to get vaccinated,” Basi said. “We will continue to talk with students, faculty and staff about vaccinations, wearing masks and other precautions we’re following per the CDC (Centers for Disease Control).”
Basi said the administration is continuing discussions on health and safety with medical experts at the institution and throughout the region. They also continue to review local trends and health department data.
“We didn’t have a spike in cases after spring break,” Basi said. “Our cases have remained low since November of last year.”
Basi said there are currently 20 confirmed cases of Covid in the on-campus student population. In Boone County, where the university is located, Basi reported 100 cases. The population of Boone County is 180,000, compared to approximately one million in St. Louis County.
“We’re not a major metropolitan area like St. Louis or Kansas City, but we’re not a rural area, either,” Basi said. “We’re a smaller population and we have seen very good compliance with the wearing of masks.”
Along with the CDC guidelines on masks, social distancing and hand washing, Garza believes growing the number of vaccinated students will protect campus populations.
“As we saw last fall when the schools opened up, there were large outbreaks of virus in a lot of college campuses,” Garza said. “Now, all of the college students should be eligible for the vaccine. To reduce the risk of outbreaks of Covid occurring again in the fall, the best strategy is to get the student body vaccinated.”
Rep. Pollock on Wednesday attempted to insert language limiting mandatory immunizations to only polio, rubella, rubeola, mumps, tetanus, pertussis, diphtheria and hepatitis B. It was added as an amendment to a bill prohibiting public universities from requiring students to live in campus housing, except for first-time freshmen. It was defeated 79-67.
“They are going to try and force the COVID vaccine on people,” Pollock told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on Nov. 30, 2020. “If people want to take it, that’s fine. I don’t want to take it and I don’t know if the vast majority wants to take it.”
Rep. Murphy is sponsoring legislation to limit the amount of control local governments can exercise during health emergencies. The City of St. Louis and St. Louis County currently require face coverings for indoor gatherings. Capacity is limited for both indoor and outdoor gatherings. Murphy urged Parson to follow Texas and eliminate all restrictions.
“Governor Greg Abbott of Texas took the bold move of opening up his state and gave his citizens the freedom to determine their own destiny,” Murphy wrote. “With the advancement of vaccines and antibody therapy drugs we now have the tools to protect our citizens…. we feel it is time that immediate action be taken. We ask that you as the leader of this state give our citizens their freedoms back by removing the remaining restrictions imposed on them.”