LSU students line up for the COVID-19 vaccine at a mass vaccination event at Tiger Stadium (JC Canicosa / Louisiana Illuminator)
COVID-19 vaccinations will be mandatory for students at most Louisiana public universities for the spring semester after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine Monday morning, though state law also makes it easy for students to apply for exceptions to any vaccine requirement.
“We’ve been alerting students that this was coming for some time now,” Cami Geisman, the vice president for external affairs for the University of Louisiana system, said over text Monday. Students can still go to classes without vaccination proof, but “will not be able to register for the next term without compliance,” unless they apply for an exception, Geisman said.
Spring registration for the UL system begins in October.
The UL system includes Louisiana Tech, Grambling State, McNeese State, Nicholls State, Northwestern State, Southeastern Louisiana, University of Louisiana at Lafayette, University of Louisiana at Monroe and the University of New Orleans.
At LSU, President William Tate said in a board meeting earlier this month that the university will mandate vaccines for all enrolled students once the vaccine gets full FDA approval, though it’s unclear when that mandate will kick in at this point.
Regardless, students can get around from vaccination mandates if they provide a medical exemption from a physician or “a written dissent from the student or his parent or guardian,” according to Louisiana state law. Though in the event of an outbreak at an institution, universities can “exclude from attendance unimmunized students” until the outbreak is contained or students provide proof of vaccination.
Some argue a university vaccine mandate isn’t truly possible because of that state law.
“It’s disingenuous to use the word ‘mandate’ because there’s no such thing in Louisiana,” Monty Sullivan, president of the Louisiana Community and Technical College System, said.
Sullivan said LCTCS won’t put in a vaccine requirement in right now, but expects LCTCS to require students to provide COVID-19 vaccination proof or a written dissent or medical exemption before the Spring 2022 semester.
“We’re going to continue to encourage our students and faculty and staff to get the vaccination,” he said. “We’re excited to see the FDA approval.”
The Southern University system couldn’t be reached for comment.
The Louisiana Department of Health allowed the UL system’s nine universities to add the COVID-19 vaccine to their list of required immunizations for students earlier this month, Geisman said.
The department hasn’t made a decision on when to add the COVID-19 vaccine to the statewide required immunization list for all public colleges and universities, said Kevin Litten, a spokesperson for the department.
Gov. John Bel Edwards has said the vaccines will be added to the schedule, Litten said, but doesn’t yet know “a timeline on when that process will begin, with the FDA approval only coming today.”
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