UVU becomes 4th public college in Utah to require students get the COVID-19 vaccine

The school is the fourth university in the state to create an immunization mandate.

(AP | Rick Bowmer) This 2019 photo shows the campus of Utah Valley University in Orem, Utah. The school announced on Monday, Aug. 30, 2021, that it would be requiring students to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

Utah Valley University will now join the three other public colleges in the state that are requiring students to get vaccinated against COVID-19 in order to attend in-person classes.

The addition Monday adds significant sway to the issue, with the Orem school being the largest public university in the state at 41,000 students. And it now means that half of the higher education institutions here will mandate the vaccine.

“As a campus community, we are grateful for your collective efforts to help us return to in-person instruction safely,” wrote the university’s President Astrid Tuminez in a letter to campus.

She said that UVU delayed any decision until it could weigh the issue with “careful consideration.” The logistics of its new requirements are still being discussed; more details are expected later this week.

The three other colleges in the state that will be requiring the vaccine announced Friday. Those are the University of Utah, Utah State University and Weber State University.

The mandates at all of the schools will only include students — not faculty or staff — at this point. But there will be further discussions about that. And there are not yet set deadlines for when those enrolled in in-person courses will need to get their shots. Those taking only online classes don’t have to meet the requirement.

There will also be medical, religious and personal exemptions permitted, as all public colleges currently allow for other vaccine requirements, such as the shot for measles, mumps and rubella. That’s required by the state.

The schools, now including UVU, said students will likely be required to show proof of vaccination or an approved exception form before spring classes start in January.

“We are working to develop a plan aimed at reducing infection and hospitalization rates in our county and state,” the university said.

Under state law, mask mandates remain prohibited for higher education here.

And earlier this year, the Republican-dominated Utah Legislature had originally banned public K-12 schools and colleges from requiring the coronavirus vaccine for attendance. But that rule only applied to vaccines being used under emergency authorization.

Last week on Aug. 23 — the same day that classes started at UVU — the Food and Drug Administration granted full authorization of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. That opened the door for universities here to mandate that specific vaccine, if administrators want.

The Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines still cannot be mandated because they remain under emergency authorization. Students, though, don’t have to get a specific shot to fulfill the requirement.

A ‘balanced approach’

With the addition of UVU, the four public colleges in the state requiring the vaccine represent 132,000 of the 189,000 higher education students in Utah. That’s roughly 70% of the public higher education population.

The four remaining colleges — Salt Lake Community College, Southern Utah University, Dixie State University and Snow College — say they’re undecided on an immunization requirement for the coronavirus.

The vaccine mandates, though, have surprisingly garnered the support of Utah Gov. Spencer Cox, Senate President Stuart Adams and House Speaker Brad Wilson — all of whom have previously spoken against efforts to require people get the shot.

On Friday, they said they appreciate the “balanced approach and look forward to keeping students, faculty and staff at our colleges and universities safe this year.”

The mandates also have the favor of the Utah Board of Higher Education, which encouraged the eight public colleges in the state to consider vaccine policies for their students.

Harris Simmons, chair of the board, wrote: “The Board views vaccinations as an effective method to reduce the spread of COVID-19 and keep our campuses open. As you evaluate the needs of your campus and region, we encourage you to consider requiring COVID-19 vaccinations — free of charge — for your students.”

Ultimately, though, he noted that it would be left to each campus to decide.

Before the announcements Friday, one other school — Westminster College in Salt Lake City — had instituted a vaccine requirement. It did so prior to the full authorization of the Pfizer vaccine, and was able to because it is a private institution. The mandate there applies to both students and staff.

Both Westminster and Brigham Young University in Provo, also a private college which is sponsored by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, are requiring masks. They are exempt from the Utah Legislature’s ban on that, which only applies to public colleges in the state.

Last academic year, every college in the state was able to require masks and most did. Some are lobbying for that again.

At Utah Valley University, specifically, faculty sent a letter to Gov. Cox last week asking him to allow the protection and for UVU to be able to mandate face coverings on campus, specifically as the more contagious delta variant spreads.

For now, the school said in its note, it’s strongly encouraging mask wearing. And it’s offering free vaccination clinics on campus.

UVU has had 2,229 cases of the coronavirus among students and staff since the pandemic began in March 2020.