All University System of Maryland campuses will require students, staff and faculty to be vaccinated against the coronavirus for the fall 2021 semester, system Chancellor Jay Perman announced during a special Board of Regents meeting Friday morning.
Morgan State University also announced on Friday that it would mandate the vaccine for students, staff and faculty in the fall. Both Morgan and the university system will grant exemptions for medical or religious reasons.
Perman, who has been working with the university presidents to reach a decision on this matter since last week, described the decision as rooted in risk/benefit analysis, similar to how he evaluates decisions as a pediatrician.
“If we examine the data — and there is an extraordinary accumulation of data — we see that the risk of vaccines is very low, whereas the risk of COVID is very high,” he said, going on to cite recent data showing that people under 40 years old have been contracting the virus and becoming sick at increasingly high rates.
“I’m convinced that the risk of doing too little to contain COVID on campus this fall is far greater than the risk of doing too much.”
Morgan’s President David Wilson called the vaccine mandate “the best path forward to a return to normalcy” for Morgan State.
“The science is credible; vaccinations are the only way that we are going to achieve herd immunity, and everyone must be a part of that solution. We appreciate everyone’s understanding as we work through these challenging times together, with the safety of the greater community at mind,” he said in a statement.
Students and employees will have to be vaccinated by Aug. 1, and Wilson is forming a vaccination management team to create “a comprehensive plan for managing the process.”
The decision, which is supported by the university’s Board of Regents, was informed by consultation with both internal and external experts, as well as members of the Morgan community, according to the university’s announcement.
In addition to the system presidents, Chancellor Perman of the USM consulted with a work group of university experts in public health, infectious disease and emergency management, as well as the universities’ shared governance organizations, about mandating vaccines, he said.
The USM’s Board of Regents unanimously supported the chancellor’s decision.
One attendee of the virtual board meeting on Friday seemed to disagree, however, saying “no mandatory vaccine COVID shot” after the meeting was adjourned. A university spokesman confirmed that this was a member of the public who had called into the meeting through a public access line.
Additionally, the decision has already received backlash from one politician. Del. Dan Cox, R-Frederick, sent a letter on Friday to Sen. Jim Rosapepe, D-Prince George’s, whose district includes the University of Maryland, College Park, claiming that the vaccine mandate would “violate” students’ and employees’ “individual liberty.”
He questioned the constitutionality of the mandate, citing a 2012 Yale Journal of Health Policy, Law and Ethics article regarding Hepatitis B vaccines.
Early in the pandemic, Cox sued to end Gov. Larry Hogan’s stay-at-home order and other pandemic-related regulations, seeking relief for businesses and churches that had been impacted by the shutdown. The lawsuit was thrown out. Later, he attempted to limit the governor’s emergency powers through legislation, an effort that also proved unsuccessful.
Cox also faced backlash in January when he attended former President Donald Trump’s Jan. 6 rally that preceded the insurrection at the United States Capitol, though he did not participate in the attack himself and later condemned the violence. He helped to organize three buses to bring constituents to Washington on Jan. 6.
Cox told The Daily Record he is not planning any legal action regarding the USM mandate.
Perman said that the university wanted to announce this decision now due an influx of inquiries from students’, parents’ and employees’ asking whether the vaccine will be mandated as they plan for the fall semester. Decision Day — the date by which high school seniors must decide what university they want to attend — is coming up in just over a week, on May 1.
While campuses have kept COVID-19 rates relatively low throughout the past two semesters, Perman said, there will be an increased number of students living on campuses along with students living in the communities nearby and interacting with professors and staff, in the coming semester. Currently, 15,000 students live on campus across all USM’s residential institutions.
“Containing COVID spread with that kind of campus density requires much more serious intervention, and that means vaccination,” he said.
Both USM and Morgan stated that the safety strategies they have implemented over the past few semesters, such as requiring masks, will remain in effect for the fall.
USM and Morgan follow the public university systems in California, which announced yesterday that they would require vaccines, but only once the shots are fully authorized by the Food and Drug Administration — all vaccines approved in the United States were given Emergency Use Authorization.
In Maryland, only Johns Hopkins University had previously announced it will require the vaccine for students; Hopkins, however, is not mandating the vaccine for faculty and staff.
Daily Record government affairs reporter Bryan P. Sears contributed to this report.
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