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Colleges to require COVID shot

Everything to know about rules, timing, exemptions
Wednesday, August 25, 2021
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• The COVID-19 vaccine has been added to the list of required shots for Louisiana Tech, Grambling State, and others

• Documentation won’t be required until the next registration period — winter quarter for Tech, spring semester for GSU

• Required: Proof of vaccination OR medical exemption from a doctor OR written dissent by student

• If there’s an outbreak on campus, the Office of Public Health could legally allow schools to remove the unvaccinated from campus, but officials say this is not being considered at present

• Both Tech and GSU will provide vaccination clinics on campus

Update — New statement and information from Grambling State University added — Aug. 25, 9:15 a.m.

The COVID-19 vaccine is now on the list of required immunizations for college students across Louisiana, including Louisiana Tech and Grambling State.

The shot was placed on the University of Louisiana System’s requirement list Monday following the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s full approval of Pfizer’s version of the vaccine.

While it’s already on the list now, students won’t have to provide proof of vaccination until the next registration period, which is in November for Tech and GSU.

“The practical application is no different than the process students go through to comply with our immunization policy upon their initial enrollment,” Tech President Les Guice said in a Tuesday statement.

While it’s called a requirement, in Louisiana there are exemptions. Students must either provide proof of vaccination, documentation from a physician indicating medical contraindication for the vaccine, or a written dissent signed by the student. Instructions on paperwork submission will be sent to students soon.

University leaders have been urging students to get vaccinated for months.

“The prevailing science tells us our return to normalcy depends on minimizing the impact of COVID-19 in our communities,” Guice said. “The available vaccines help to prevent infection — lessening the spread of the virus and providing remarkable protection against severe disease — reducing the strain on our healthcare infrastructure.”

ULS President Jim Henderson on Twitter Monday said it’s the option for dissent exemptions that prompted the decision to wait to enforce the vaccine requirement until the next registration period, rather than immediately this fall.

Making the requirement immediate “would result in an avalanche of personal exemptions and work against our vaccination efforts,” he wrote.

“The problem is the exemption submission ends the conversation. We believe our approach will maximize vaccination rates and minimize exemptions.”

GSU students must submit proof of vaccination or written dissent by November 22, 2021, to register for the Spring 2022 semester and terms moving forward.

“As we continue to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic, my hope is that our students, faculty and staff are continuing to keep themselves and others safe,” GSU President Rick Gallot said. “Because health and safety are the top priority and paramount to approaching a sense of normalcy, I strongly encourage all students to be vaccinated for COVID-19 as soon as possible.”

With other diseases for which vaccines are required, like measles, the state Office of Public Health can grant schools and universities the power to exclude the unimmunized from campus in the event of an outbreak on that campus.

That law, part of Louisiana Revised Statute 17:170, would apply to COVID as well, but Henderson said he doesn’t expect that authority to be granted in this case.

“I asked that question weeks ago, and it was not a consideration for OPH at this time,” the ULS president wrote on Twitter. “A pandemic of a novel virus likely was not considered when this bill was crafted. We need to revisit.”

In other words, it’s unlikely universities will be given the authority to remove the unvaccinated from campus, but the possibility in the letter of the law remains.

The state health department approved requests from the ULS, LSU and Southern University systems to place the COVID-19 vaccine on the requirement list once it garnered full approval from the FDA.

Until now, the vaccine had been distributed under an Emergency Use Authorization.

ULS member campuses are encouraging the immunization through vaccine clinics and incentive programs.

Grambling State, in partnership with the Louisiana National Guard, is holding a vaccination clinic every Monday, Wednesday and Saturday for the next six weeks. The clinic, which kicked off Saturday, is at T.H. Harris Auditorium from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. those days. No appointment is necessary, but valid identification is required.

Meanwhile, Tech is planning a clinic for Aug. 31 and Sept. 1 in the parking lot of the ROPP Center. Times are to be determined. The clinic will be open to the public.

There’s also the statewide Shot for $100 incentive program, which provides $100 VISA gift cards to students who get vaccinated at a participating university, including Tech and Grambling State.

Tech students can present their student ID at GSU’s vaccine clinic or any other on a ULS campus to get the shot and enter the incentive program before Tech’s own clinic kicks off.

Both local universities have also offered their own prize programs to vaccinated individuals on campus in recent weeks.