BELOIT, Wis. (WTVO) — Beloit College announced Monday that students will need to provide proof of vaccination to attend classes this Fall.
The college says students who prove they’ve been vaccinated against COVID-19 will not need to wear masks, attend regular testing, or quarantine if they come into close contact with someone infected with the coronavirus.
“Any individuals who cannot get the vaccine due to medical or religious reasons or strong philosophical objections will need to attend regular testing, quarantine if designated a close contact of a positive case, wear masks, and follow physical distancing guidelines,” the college said in a statement.
Legal scholars say the COVID-19 vaccines’ emergency use status moves the issue to a legal gray area that’s likely to be challenged in court, and some colleges may take a more cautious approach to avoid litigation.
Harvard Law professor Glenn Cohen, who teaches health law and bioethics, said there’s no legal reason colleges wouldn’t be allowed to require COVID-19 vaccinations. It makes no difference that the shots haven’t been given full approval, he said, noting that many colleges already require students to take coronavirus tests that are approved under the same FDA emergency authorization. But there’s also no federal guidance explicitly permitting vaccination mandates.
Federal law requires colleges to provide accommodations to students who refuse a vaccine for medical reasons, and most schools are also offering exemptions for religious reasons.
But enforcing vaccine mandates will bring its own challenges. Cornell and Northeastern say students will be asked to show proof of vaccination, but there is no widely accepted vaccine credential. Cornell told students they can provide the card given out at their vaccination site, but card formats vary and generally seem like they would be easy to forge.
At Northeastern, officials are still deciding whether students will have to provide a medical record proving they were vaccinated or whether they will be allowed to attest to having been immunized — essentially taking their word for it.
Colleges are also grappling with what to expect of international students, who may not have access to vaccines in their home countries or who may get shots that are not used in the United States. Some colleges say they’re planning to develop arrangements to make shots available for international students when they arrive.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.