Lehigh announced on April 21 that the COVID-19 vaccine will be required for in-person students for the fall semester. Students are permitted to get any of the vaccines in circulation as long as they are FDA approved. (Jessica Mellon/B&W Staff)

Student leaders discuss goals and plans for COVID-19 vaccine mandate

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Lehigh announced on April 21 that all students with plans to return to campus in the fall are mandated to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. This decision follows suit of other universities across the U.S.

The vaccine requirement will operate similarly to existing requirements for other immunizations. Any of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration authorized vaccines will satisfy the requirement. 

International students will have to receive one of the FDA-approved vaccines upon arrival even if they have been previously vaccinated with a non-FDA approved vaccine. AstraZeneca is used widely abroad for COVID-19, but has not been authorized in the U.S.

David Rubenstein, executive director of the Health and Wellness Center, said given the current eligibility in the U.S., the COVID-19 Response Team and the administration believe Lehigh can achieve a high vaccination rate among the student body. 

“We made this decision based on what the COVID-19 Response Team determined is best for our campus community,” Rubenstein said in an email. “We look at peer universities across the country and their practices, but attend most to CDC, PA DOH (Department of Health) recommendations and the unique aspects of our campus and local community for what is best for Lehigh.” 

Eve Freed, ‘21, president of Student Senate, said the Senate would support the mandate. She said she was initially surprised that Lehigh made this choice because she believed the administration was hesitant. 

“Everyone was like we’d really like to (mandate the vaccine) and obviously it’s the safest option for the community, but we might face some pushback, and, you know, there has been pushback,” Freed said. 

Freed said if students do not want the vaccine, there are mechanisms for exemption that mirror other required immunizations. Students are eligible for exemption in cases of both medical or religious objection. 

Esha Soni, ‘24, said she was not surprised by the school’s mandate. Soni is already fully vaccinated, but understands that her peers may be hesitant for other reasons. 

“I know other people have their own opinions and are entitled to want to take the vaccine or not,” Soni said. “Personally, I think it’s safe, and I feel safer not getting COVID or spreading it.”

The administration announced in an email that students, faculty and staff who have been fully vaccinated will not need to quarantine or be tested if they are identified as a close contact of a person with COVID-19. Those who are fully vaccinated will also not need to undergo surveillance testing. 

Allie Kirkpatrick, ‘22, chair of the Health, Safety and Wellness Committee for Student Senate, meets with the response team weekly along with other Student Senate members. Although Kirkpatrick has heard of some pushback from the community, she also said she believes there is excitement about the possibilities of a more normal student experience in the fall. 

“As we saw more and more schools starting to mandate, and especially schools that are similar sizes or types of student body or location to ours, I think really it makes most sense to follow suit with what they’re doing,” Kirkpatrick said. 

Kirkpatrick said the response team meetings she attended included discussions of how to incentivize students to get the vaccine instead of requiring it. She said ultimately those ideas were not necessary because of the decision to mandate it. 

“We can’t afford to not take responsibility and that required a mandate,” Kirkpatrick said.

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