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UC, CSU planning mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations for faculty, staff and students returning to campus

The proposed policy is still being developed.

CALIFORNIA, USA — Both California State University and University of California systems announced Thursday that they're planning to require faculty, staff and students to be vaccinated against COVID-19 upon returning to campus.

“Together, the CSU and UC enroll and employ more than one million students and employees across 33 major university campuses, so this is the most comprehensive and consequential university plan for COVID-19 vaccines in the country," CSU Chancellor Joseph I. Castro said in a news release. “Consistent with previous CSU announcements related to the university's response to the pandemic, we are sharing this information now to give students, their families and our employees ample time to make plans to be vaccinated prior to the start of the fall term."

Sacramento State University supports the move from CSU.

“The vaccines are the way back," said Ed Mills, Vice President of Student Affairs at Sacramento State. "It’s very important for us as a matter of public health and, as colleges and universities where you have large gatherings of individuals coming together all the time, it’s really important for us to make sure we’re following the public health guidelines, making sure that people get vaccinated and really helping the country on its way to herd immunity…”

However, the big announcement on Thursday came as a surprise to union leaders of the CSU Employees Union and California Faculty Association. 

“I hadn’t heard any news that there were discussions about making it mandatory. I know that people have been concerned it could be a possibility, especially with all of the discussion of vaccine passports at airports. But I was surprised and immediately flooded with emails,” said Caity Fox, president of the CSUEU at Sacramento State.

Margarita Berta Avila, president of the CFA at Sacramento State, said her union also hadn't heard anything about the requirement ahead of the announcement.

"I think I was a little more surprised because we had not had any conversations with the chancellor's office regarding vaccinations or the decisions made toward wanting full vaccinations to be able to return to campus,” Avila said.

Both unions are looking to pump the breaks and head to the bargaining table after the announcement. However, both emphasized that this wasn't a matter of being anti-vaccine.

“It’s not a matter... of not wanting a healthy community or reopening, but more so, how will we take into account considerations of faculty who might not be able to take a vaccine immediately or in the near future,” Avila said.

Fox echoed similar concerns. She said the union wants to make sure that privacy concerns are met, that people who need exemptions get them, that medical information is handled responsibly, that consequences for noncompliance are known, and that the union knows how management is impacting the return to campus.

For Sacramento State's part, they say the next phase is about conversation, i.e. what to do about exemptions and people who don't want the vaccine.

“Those are the kinds of details that we’ve got to work out in the coming weeks," said Mills. "The first thing is to make sure the campus communities all know this is a requirement that’s coming. That’s the first step in being able to answer those kinds of questions.”

The requirement would go into effect at the start of the fall 2021 term, or upon full FDA approval of the vaccine, whichever is later. Current vaccines being used in the United States have emergency approval, but Mills said the FDA is moving toward a formal approval.

Vaccine requirements are not new. There are already requirements for measles, mumps, and rubella for new students, Mills said. The key aspect for the unions is to get in the conversation and to ensure their members are protected. 

Before any changes happen, the CSU and UC say they'll be engaging their students, staff, faculty about the policy. Plans for the current vaccine requirement would also allow for students of employees to seek an exemption on medical or religious grounds. 

This policy and implementation details are still being developed, but the joint announcement from the 10-campus UC system and the 23-campus CSU is the largest of its kind in U.S. higher education. It would affect more than 1 million students and employees across 33 university campuses. Several U.S. colleges and universities have said they plan to require the vaccination on campuses this fall.

While not affiliated with the UC or CSU schools, San Joaquin Delta College said it is encouraging its students to be vaccinated, but hasn't made any decision on fall requirements. 

To read the full draft policy for the UC Vaccination Program, click HERE.

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