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Colleges Unclear On Whether They Can Require COVID-19 Vaccine For Students, Staff

Arizona college students can get COVID-19 vaccines now that the state has started vaccinating the general public, but it’s still unclear whether Arizona colleges and universities will make the vaccines mandatory. 

Colleges and universities already require some vaccines for new students, including those living in their dorms, but that doesn’t include COVID-19 vaccines. That’s because the vaccines have not yet been officially approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, said University of Arizona President Robert Robbins.

“Because the vaccine is under an emergency use authorization, we can’t mandate it," he said during a Monday media briefing. "We’re strongly encouraging, pleading, we’re groveling, we’re begging please, please do the things that we’re asking you to do.” 

Once the FDA fully approves COVID-19 vaccines, the university may be able to require them, if it wishes, but officials anticipate there may be legal challenges if it passes such a policy. 

Arizona State University, Grand Canyon University, Northern Arizona University and Maricopa County Community College District have not yet decided whether they will make the vaccines required for students and staff. 

GCU also noted that the American College Health Association has not made a recommendation about whether colleges should require the COVID-19 vaccine, as it's waiting for guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"For the fall 2021 semester, we will be working with health officials to gather evidence and determine whether the COVID vaccine will be required, by law, similar to vaccines for measles, mumps, polio, Rubella, etc., and to learn more about the longevity of such a vaccine, before making any decisions," GCU said. 

Outside of Arizona, Rutgers University in New Jersey announced recently that will require its students get a COVID-19 vaccine before arriving on campus in the fall. 

EDITOR'S NOTE: KJZZ is licensed to the Maricopa County Community College District.

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Rocio Hernandez was a senior field correspondent at KJZZ from 2020 to 2022.