This story was updated on 4/20 to include a quote from Assistant Professor of Global Health and Epidemiology Robert Bednarczyk and Professor of Global Health and Epidemiology Kenneth Castro. 

Emory University will require COVID-19 vaccination for all students in fall 2021, according to a Monday email from University President Gregory L. Fenves. The email stated that staff and faculty will not be required to be vaccinated at this time, but it is “strongly recommended” that they do.

Over 14,000 students, faculty and staff have already received at least their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine through Emory Healthcare, Fenves wrote.

“Student vaccinations will create a healthier environment in our classrooms, which will be at full density during the fall,” Fenves wrote. 

Fenves noted that the University will supply vaccines for students who are not able to be vaccinated before coming back in the fall. Students who have medical conditions or “strong personal objections” may also apply for an exemption from the vaccine requirement. 

The university will require that all students are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 for the fall 2021 semester. (Creative Commons/ SELF Magazine).

The University will relax restrictions around student life activities, such as programs, athletics and intramural sports, performances and events and “appropriately-sized” gatherings. Currently operating in the “yellow” zone of its gathering risk meter, the University hopes to operate in the “green” zone come the fall semester, according to Associate Vice President and Executive Director of COVID-19 Response and Recovery Amir St. Clair.

Professor of Global Health and Epidemiology Kenneth Castro told the Wheel that widespread COVID-19 immunization is a key to limiting transmission of COVID-19 and mitigating the harmful consequences of the virus. He noted that his responses reflect his professional perspective and not the official position of the University. 

“Available studies suggest that, compared with unvaccinated persons, those vaccinated against COVID-19 are less likely to transmit infection,” Kenneth wrote in an email to the Wheel. “Also, in those very few vaccinated people who develop ‘breakthrough’ COVID-19, their illness is usually milder and much less likely to require hospitalizations or intensive care than in unvaccinated people.” 

Assistant Professor of Global Health and Epidemiology Robert Bednarczyk added that the COVID-19 vaccine requirement is “in-line” with other vaccine requirements the University has for its students. 

“This is just like other diseases Emory has a vaccination requirement for, like meningitis and measles, that can spread easily through the close living, studying, and dining situations of college students,” Bednarczyk wrote in an email to the Wheel. “Having safe and effective vaccines against COVID-19 gives us the best opportunity to increase protection against this disease, as well as preventing infections that can lead to the emergence of new variants.” 

Those on campus will still embrace public health measures like wearing face coverings and COVID-19 testing, Fenves wrote.

This announcement follows a COVID-19 vaccine survey, which closed on April 12, where students anonymously shared their thoughts about a potential COVID-19 vaccine requirement for the fall 2021 semester. 

The survey, which included 3,766 students, indicated that 73.42% of participating students “strongly support” Emory requiring students to be fully vaccinated for the fall semester, with 11.27% of students indicating that they “somewhat support” the requirement, according to results provided by Vice President of University Communications Nancy Seideman. 

Following a similar trend, 82.95% of the 1,752 faculty respondents showed “strongly support” a vaccination requirement for students and 8.67% said they “somewhat support” the requirement. 

The survey also gauged Emory community members current vaccination progress, finding that 51.43% of students have already received their first dose and 30.62% are fully vaccinated. Just 676 students, or 17.95% of respondents, have not received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. 

Of those vaccinated, 64.73% of faculty and staff and 48.86% of students said they received or will receive their vaccines from Emory Healthcare. 

While 91.18% of participating students intend to complete their COVID-19 vaccination series, 8.82% indicated that they do not plan to get fully vaccinated.

Similarly, 95.6% of faculty and staff say they will get vaccinated, with only a small minority of 4.4%, or 26 respondents, saying they will not. 

While faculty and staff are currently not required to be vaccinated for the fall semester, Castro noted that all faculty and staff have been “strongly encouraged” to receive the vaccination. 

“I also anticipate that Emory University will continue to update recommendations as we gather additional information,” Castro wrote. “If justified by available data, faculty may later be mandated to provide evidence of immunization against COVID-19, with the same exemptions as available to students.”

Many peer institutions implemented COVID-19 vaccine requirements for the fall 2021 semester earlier this month. The University of Notre Dame (Ind.) mandated a vaccine requirement for students on April 7. Likewise, Duke University (N.C.) required students to be vaccinated in order to enroll in fall semester classes on April 9, but religious and medical exemptions are permitted. Brown University (R.I.), Cornell University (N.Y.) and Georgetown University (D.C.) have similar requirements. 

“I am proud to see our academic institution assume a proactive stance in the midst of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic — which has already claimed more than 567,000 lives,” Castro wrote. “This measure will contribute to a safe return to in-person classes, seminars, and other learning activities.” 

The email also announced that the University will release more information about the requirement later today.