University of Virginia students who have not been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 will be barred from participating in in-person classes in the fall semester and cannot step foot on university grounds, school leaders announced Monday.
Students will have to provide proof of vaccination by July 1 if they want to take in-person classes or be on university grounds. Students can request a medical or religious exemption to the requirement. If granted, they will be required to take weekly COVID-19 tests and other health measures.
“This approach will enable our students to return to a residential academic setting where they can live, study, and gather together safely,” UVA President Jim Ryan and other university leaders said in an email message.
A person is considered fully vaccinated two weeks after they have received all required doses of a vaccine.
In late April, Attorney General Mark Herring issued a formal opinion that universities have the authority to require COVID-19 vaccinations as a condition of in-person enrollment. The decision was written to provide guidance to universities establishing their protocol for the upcoming semester; however, an attorney general opinion is not legally binding, so a student could make a legal challenge to the university’s requirement.
“We have seen how crucial vaccinations will be for keeping the COVID-19 pandemic under control and putting us on a path towards normalcy,” Herring said in reference to his opinion. “Virginia’s college and university students deserve the chance to go to classes in-person and take advantage of all that their schools have to offer, but over the past year we have seen numerous COVID outbreaks on school campuses, so we must make sure that they are doing so with the health and safety of their peers and communities in mind.”
UVA employees are not yet required to get the COVID-19 vaccine as a condition of employment, but they are strongly encouraged to get the vaccination. In its statement, the university said it will monitor employee vaccination rates and consult health experts as they consider whether to enact such a mandate.
A person who has received his or her full vaccination will not be required to wear masks indoors or outdoors, per university rules. However, social distancing rules are still in place.
Other major universities in the commonwealth have not yet made vaccines a requirement, but have also not ruled out the possibility.
“At the current time, Virginia Tech does not require students or employees to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, but we encourage everyone in the university community to do so,” Virginia Tech Associate Vice President for University Relations told The Center Square. “Having said that, we continue to consider and discuss that issue in relationship to the fall semester. When the university has new or updated guidance on this topic, we will share broadly as well as with you.”
James Madison University has also not established a requirement, but a spokesperson told The Center Square to monitor the university’s website on decisions related to a vaccine requirement.
Spokespersons for Virginia Commonwealth University, George Mason University and Old Dominion University did not respond to a request for comment.