All students, faculty and staff of the University of California and California State University systems will be required to get vaccinated against COVID-19 by the start of fall classes in one of the biggest steps yet statewide to help bring the pandemic under control.
The two systems said in a statement that “this requirement will be conditioned upon full approval of one or more vaccines by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), as well as adequate availability of the fully approved vaccines. This requirement will become effective at the beginning of the fall 2021 term, or upon full FDA approval of the vaccine, whichever occurs later.”
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The two systems, which collectively serve more than 764,000 students — including about 90,000 at three campuses in San Diego County — announced the plan April 22 as vaccination programs continued to expand throughout California.
The vaccination boom is partly being propelled by UC San Diego Health. Through April 22 the network had administered nearly 400,000 doses of vaccine, with roughly 162,000 people becoming fully vaccinated. And more vaccine was rolling in.
Whether public agencies can mandate vaccines under the emergency-use authorization, or EUA, that has been extended to the current vaccines in use remains an open question — one that is likely to be answered in court in coming months.
Language in the emergency-use authorization says recipients “have the option to accept or refuse the vaccine,” which some labor-law experts take to apply to the government but not necessarily the private sector. Therefore, it may be a safer bet for public agencies to wait for formal approval, some attorneys say.
At least two federal lawsuits have been filed so far challenging government vaccine mandates under EUA — one against the Los Angeles Unified School District and another against a New Mexico county.
But the April 22 news was expected to add momentum to efforts by California’s colleges and universities to return to near-normalcy following more than a year of chaos and financial losses that ran into the hundreds of millions at some schools.
The pandemic hit hard and fast at many schools.
They had to move students out of campus housing with little notice. Students who had been enjoying newfound freedom suddenly found themselves taking all their classes online from their parents’ home.
Many faculty members had to quickly learn to teach classes in an online format. The change angered and frustrated many professors, who complained that they didn’t have all the training and equipment they needed to do their jobs well.
Students and faculty alike also complained about the isolating nature of online education.
The mood grew worse when most colleges announced that they would not be able to hold traditional in-person commencement ceremonies last spring.
Schools also had to persuade their students to wear masks and practice social distancing when classes resumed in August and September.
UC San Diego in La Jolla — one of the nation’s largest research universities, averaging about $4 million a day in new research funding — had to close many of its labs and operate others with skeleton crews. Many researchers ended up working from home, turning dens and garages into makeshift workspaces.
The lockdown and slowdown could end up costing UCSD upward of $300 million.
The university hustled to adapt and soon became one of the first major schools in the country to broadly test students for the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. The campus made it easy for students to get tested and provided results quickly, helping to slow the spread of the disease.
The program contributed to UCSD’s recent announcement that it will return to near capacity operation this fall, with 36,000 of its 40,000 students taking courses on campus. The university also expects to accommodate a record 17,100 students in campus housing. ◆