First, it was Rutgers. Now, the University of Pennsylvania and Drexel University will require students to be vaccinated against COVID-19 before returning to campus this fall, They are among 100 universities nationwide and growing that are making the shot requisite.
When COVID-19 rampaged through university and college campuses last year, higher education officials sent students home and closed campuses. With the social nature of college campuses, from bustling dining halls to packed parties, they are places where the virus easily spread.
Although the spring 2021 semester is coming to a close, universities in the Philadelphia area are gearing up for the fall 2021 semester and must decide whether to add COVID vaccines to the list for students returning to campuses. While Penn and Drexel are imposing vaccine mandates, Villanova and Widener have stated they have plans to conduct fall 2021 in-person with social distancing guidelines, rigorous sanitation of classrooms, and testing available for students, faculty, and staff.
Although Widener has not made the COVID-19 vaccine mandatory for students upon returning to campus, President Julie E. Wollman, Ph.D., is “strongly encouraging everyone to get vaccinated as soon as it is possible.” Also, the university plans to offer a COVID-19 vaccine clinic on its main campus to increase access to the greater Widener community.
Drexel and Penn justify their vaccine policy to create a safe environment for students and allow them to get the whole college experience that many students were deprived of during the pandemic. In a message sent to Drexel students on April 20, university officials highlighted the importance of vaccines, deeming them “safe, effective, and wildly available.”
“Drexel intends to require vaccination for all undergraduate and graduate students taking part in any face-to-face classes,” officials said. “As well as those participating in extracurricular or other program activities on campus, accessing any facilities on campus, participating in any team sports, or working in Drexel facilities,” the message stated.
Although Drexel said medical and religious exemptions will be accommodated on a case by case basis, they expect that the campus will consist of mainly vaccinated individuals. Drexel will require students to be fully vaccinated two weeks before their return to campus.
Jenn Anderson, a sophomore at the University of Pennsylvania, currently studying Biotechnology, believes requiring students to be vaccinated is necessary.
“I think it’s the best way to ensure the safety not only of students but their families as well,” said Anderson.
Although Anderson was vaccinated early due to her job in the healthcare field, she has witnessed a fair amount of preventable deaths.
“Many of these folks were unvaccinated and not compliant with masking and social distancing,” said Anderson. “And I feel that any policy that mitigates those risks is necessary.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has taken a toll on the mental health of young adults due to being isolated from their peers; vaccination is necessary to minimize the need to be physically isolated.
Emily Grace Kane, an incoming doctoral student in the Public Health program at Drexel, anticipates students’ pushback on the new policy.
“Although it makes me feel much safer coming to campus, I anticipate there will be pushback for sure. But colleges have been requiring students to get vaccinated for viruses for years,” said Kane.
It’s a choice to come to the school and to attend; you have to abide by the rules, Kane added.
Drexel will also have vaccine clinics on campus for students who could not be vaccinated before their arrival on campus.
Universities such as Drexel and the University of Pennsylvania have a strong presence in West Philadelphia. Officials stress they are taking the necessary actions to ensure the safety of their students and their surrounding community.