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Experts recommend UMN sunset COVID-19 vaccine mandate

The Faculty Consultative Committee heard a proposal to end the COVID-19 vaccine mandate, which public health experts say is an outdated policy.
Image by Hailee Schievelbein

At the Faculty Consultative Committee (FCC) meeting on April 16, the University of Minnesota’s public health experts discussed ending the University’s COVID-19 vaccine requirement.

The proposal to end the mandate is in the middle of the consultation process, after which the President Policy Committee (PPC) will receive all of the comments and recommend a decision to the president, Provost Rachel Croson said at the FCC meeting on Thursday.

If the proposal reaches the PPC by mid-June, current president Joan Gabel will decide if the mandate will be removed, Croson said.

Public health expert recommends mandate termination

Jill DeBoer, director of public health practice at the University, said the mandate is the last issue on the menu of public health strategies for COVID-19 as the University moves away from its emergency response.

DeBoer said the COVID-19 vaccine mandate is an outdated University policy. She said she believes the requirement made sense when it was instituted in 2021, but now “we understand doses wane over time.”

According to DeBoer, the COVID-19 vaccine is effective as a personal health choice since it can lessen the severity of symptoms and the risk of hospitalization and death, but it has not been successful in reducing cases.

“Combined with treatments, we are in a different place now than when we started,” DeBoer said.

DeBoer said it is difficult to monitor and require vaccinations at an individual level and the vast majority of University students intended to be vaccinated anyway.

“We did a [campus] survey before we had the mandate in place with intent to be vaccinated; 95% intended to be vaccinated, 5% would apply for an exemption,” DeBoer said.

DeBoer said viral loads — how much of the virus an individual carries — are the same between those who are vaccinated and those who are not.

“We, probably for public health, overstated how beneficial the vaccine is,” DeBoer said.

The University Public Health System plans to add the vaccine to existing programs, so sustainable COVID-19 testing and vaccines will continue to be available without barriers, DeBoer said. Information will be provided and incoming students will be taught the importance of vaccines and how to access it, she said.

COVID-19 testing and vaccines are now available at Boynton Health with no appointment necessary, DeBoer said.

Concerns over mandate lift

Jennifer Goodnough, an associate professor for University of Minnesota-Morris, questioned the lack of resistance toward the potential mandate lift displayed at Thursday’s FCC meeting.

“I’m wondering if we are not hearing some of the concerns,” Goodnough said.

Croson said in conversations with the student senate, students expressed a range of opinions about lifting the mandate.

“We heard from one student that [we] should keep the [COVID-19] vaccine mandate to the residence halls, others said no,” Croson said.

FCC Chair Colleen Flaherty Manchester said most people view the current 93% vaccination rate as successful.

DeBoer recommends getting the COVID-19 vaccine and boosters to those who are 65 and older and immunocompromised.

“I’m concerned that people will get the impression the vaccine isn’t important,” DeBoer said. “We no longer feel a mandate is needed.”

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