New York public colleges to end vaccine mandates

Nearly 80% of New Yorkers between 18 and 34 have completed their primary series of vaccinations.

Updated: April 12, 2023 - 11:00pm

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 New York’s sprawling public university systems plan to drop COVID-19 vaccination mandates next month, citing high rates of vaccination and declining infections.

The State University of New York and City University of New York announced this week that students, faculty and staff will no longer be required to get jabbed once the spring semester ends roughly around May 23, while some campuses will end the mandate a month later.

CUNY Chancellor Félix Matos Rodríguez said he is confident it's time for the university system to lift the vaccine requirement as a condition of enrollment or employment.

"Throughout the pandemic, we have consistently put health and safety first while balancing it against our core mission of providing access to higher education to the greatest extent possible," he said in a statement. "We will continue to consult with public health experts, closely monitor data and adhere to all pertinent federal, state and city guidance should policies need to be modified moving forward."

SUNY Chancellor John King said the university system, which operates 64 campuses across New York state, will "continue to monitor cases and make adjustments as needed, but even more importantly, we will look to increase the overall health and wellness support we provide our students."

"The safety of SUNY’s students is our first and foremost priority, and while COVID is no longer an emergency, we will not lose sight of the impact it continues to have on us," King said.

CUNY’s vaccination mandate, instituted in the fall of 2021, required students to submit proof they were fully vaccinated in order to enroll in classes. The policy applied to faculty, non-teaching instructional staff and other employees. The university allowed students and employees to request medical and religious exemptions.

Both public university systems cited declining rates of COVID-19 infections in New York and nationally, higher vaccination rates and less severe variants of the virus.

Nearly 80% of New Yorkers between 18 and 34 have completed their primary series of vaccinations, according to the state Department of Public Health. New York City’s COVID-19 level is currently low across all five boroughs, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Community Level tracking.

The move to end the vaccine mandates follows President Joe Biden's decision to sign a bill on Monday ending the federal government's public health emergency. Biden’s predecessor, Donald Trump, issued the proclamation in March 2020, temporarily expanding the executive branch’s power.

In February, New York City Mayor Eric Adams lifted a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for city workers, citing new data showing more than 96% of municipal employees are fully vaccinated.

But the move followed a ruling in October by Supreme Court Justice Ralph Porzio, who said the city's policy was enacted "illegally" and workers who were fired for refusing to comply must be "immediately reinstated" with back pay.

During the pandemic New York City imposed some of the strictest COVID-19 vaccine mandates in the country, enforcing rules for both public and private sector workers.