University tries to beat the clock on COVID-19 vaccine mandate ban

By: - July 16, 2021 12:30 am

The Wolstein Research Building at Case Western Reserve University. Photo from Google Maps.

Using the clock to its advantage before state legislation outlaws the practice, Cleveland State University said it will move forward with its requirement that all on-campus students seek vaccination against COVID-19 before returning this fall.

House Bill 244, which Gov. Mike DeWine signed Wednesday, forbids public K-12 schools and colleges from requiring any vaccine without “full approval” from federal regulators. COVID-19 vaccines are currently available for use via what’s known as an “emergency use authorization,” a streamlined regulatory approval.

Meanwhile, private schools including Case Western Reserve University, Ohio Wesleyan University, the College of Wooster, Mount St. Joseph University (on-campus students only), and Kenyon College all still plan to require immunization against the disease for students. The schools will allow students to apply for religious and medical exemptions.

Cleveland State, a public institution, said it plans to comply with the law in full — but not until it takes effect Oct. 13.

Unless bills are passed with what’s known as an “emergency clause,” which is not contained in HB 244, they don’t take effect for 90 days.

“CSU’s requirement that all students living in our residence halls be vaccinated for COVID-19 remains in effect for the start of the fall semester,” said university spokeswoman Alison Bibb-Carson. “Medical and religious exemptions are available for qualifying individuals.”

Case Western, which is private, posted word online of its mandate Thursday morning, less than 24 hours after DeWine signed the bill designed to quash the practice in public schools.

In May, the university asked students to submit proof of their vaccination; in June, it entered those who did so into a drawing for either $500 or three months free parking on campus; weeks later it upped the stakes to half tuition, according to university President Eric Kaler and Executive Vice President Ben Vinson III in a letter to the community.

With proof of vaccination for about 70% of its students, Case Western opted to require vaccination to give students what the leaders said is the level of protection they expect and deserve.

“Research shows that people who are fully vaccinated are significantly less likely to contract or spread COVID-19 — and if they are infected, their symptoms will not be as severe,” the men wrote. “With highly transmissible delta variant present in all 50 states — and weekly U.S. case counts doubling in recent weeks — full vaccination is even more critical.”

The conflict reflects a broader political clash. Vaccines provide protection on an individual basis but are most effective at scale — a certain threshold of vaccination can provide community-wide protection, not just individual protection. However, tens of thousands of Americans continue to abstain, despite a pandemic complicated by a new faster-spreading variant of the new coronavirus.

Spokesmen for Ohio’s largest colleges —Ohio State University and Ohio University — confirmed they still have no plans to require students to receive vaccinations.

OSU spokesman Ben Johnson said in an email approximately 68% of returning students, faculty and staff have completed vaccination, and some vaccinated students, faculty and staff are likely not yet reflected in that figure because they have not reported their status.

After seven months of availability, fewer than 49% of Ohioans are vaccinated against COVID-19, which has hospitalized more than 61,000 state residents and killed more than 20,000 since about March 2020, according to state data.

Adults aged 20-29 sport the thinnest coverage of any fully vaccine-eligible cohort, with slightly more than 40% of the population vaccinated. COVID-19 tends to present itself comparatively mildly in the age group. However, at least 2,630 people aged 20-29 wound up hospitalized with COVID-19. Thirty in the age group died.

DeWine signed the bill into law after previously stating he would veto any legislation that would “discourage vaccination.”

A spokesman said Wednesday they are confident the vaccines are safe and effective and will receive full approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, effectively rendering the legislation as moot.



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Jake Zuckerman
Jake Zuckerman

Jake Zuckerman is a statehouse reporter. He spent three years chronicling the West Virginia Legislature for The Charleston Gazette-Mail after covering cops and courts for The Northern Virginia Daily.