Emory University has not yet announced whether COVID-19 vaccines will be required for students, faculty and staff returning to campus in the fall 2021 semester. If they are, the process will likely parallel the one in place for other required vaccinations, said Associate Vice President and Executive Director of COVID-19 Response and Recovery Amir St. Clair.
“It’s not just, would Emory require it, but then, what would be the downstream impact areas of requiring it?” St. Clair said in an interview with the Wheel on Monday. “How would you track it, how would you validate it, how would you hold everybody accountable to that type of requirement? There is still a process by which students need to upload and verify and there are consequences if students don’t meet those requirements.”
Students in Emory College who have previously failed to obtain required vaccinations before the beginning of the school year faced a hold on registration for the spring semester. Beginning spring 2021 with the flu vaccine requirement and continuing for other vaccinations in future semesters, the registration hold takes effect for registration during the current semester, said Executive Director of Emory Student Health Services Sharon Rabinovitz.
“That’s one lever that we can pull,” Rabinovitz said. “The other thing, and looking back at [the] flu, is that it’s part of the onboarding process, that in order to onboard, come to class [and] access buildings you had to onboard and have the flu vaccine this past semester.”
The University will likely accept any official documentation of the vaccine, including Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cards given to most vaccine recipients in the U.S., Rabinovitz said.
The school could also require the flu vaccine again next spring if COVID-19 prevalence remains significant, as the requirement seemed to play a role in preventing flu cases on campus this past year, Rabinovitz said.
“We don’t know exactly what coronavirus is going to do over the next year,” Rabinovitz said. “There’s a lot of unanswered questions about what’s going to happen with variants and the seasonality of coronavirus, but I think we really know that mitigation strategies and vaccines really limited our flu cases this year.”
The University will institute an onboarding process for students living on or visiting campus during the summer, and will likely continue with an onboarding process and screening testing in the fall, although the specifics are not yet finalized.
“We do, at this point, still anticipate an onboarding process for the fall for a couple of reasons,” St. Clair said. “We want to continue to make sure our campus is as safe and healthy as possible … We also know that the environment is likely going to change a lot over the next four to five months.”
The course of the pandemic between now and August and any new information surrounding COVID-19 that emerges will affect testing protocols for the fall, St. Clair explained.
“There are so many indicators that we anticipate will continue to pivot and evolve, and will help inform our decisions,” St. Clair said. “And so we want to make sure we’re not making decisions now that might be impacted by evidence and data later.”
St. Clair urged students in Atlanta to get vaccinated before leaving for the summer if possible, and to continue to comply with other safety recommendations.
“Be really vigilant to make sure that we can get to the point at the end of the semester where we feel good, our prevalence was low, we didn’t have to take restrictive actions,” St. Clair said. “We’ve got five weeks left. Stay the course.”
The University recorded 23 new COVID-19 cases since April 6, including 18 students and five staff members. Of the student cases, 14 occurred off campus, and the other four were recorded at Clairmont Residential Center, Few Hall, Raoul Hall and Turman Hall. Staff cases were recorded at Facilities Management E-Zone Shop and administration, the Health Sciences Research Building, Wesley Woods Health Center and Yerkes Neuroscience Building.
There are seven students in quarantine and three in isolation at the Emory Conference Center Hotel as of April 16.