ACA.dontwaitvaccinate.013.072221

Students walk through a campus-organization informational session in the Student Union during freshman orientation Wednesday, July 21, 2021 at UL in Lafayette, La.

In the wake of LSU's announcement Wednesday that it won't require COVID vaccines, but will require unvaccinated students to be tested monthly this fall, the nine colleges in the University of Louisiana System, which include the University of New Orleans and the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, weighed in with with their planned COVID protocols for the fall semester.

The UL system also won’t require vaccinations, and neither will the community colleges and technical schools that are a part of the Louisiana Community and Technical College System, which oversees about dozen schools with 60 campuses statewide.

UL Lafayette is strongly encouraging student vaccination, according to the school's published COVID-19 response. That includes an incentives campaign in which fully vaccinated students can register for prizes, including two iPhone 12s, two MacBook Airs, two Oculus Quests, two Apple Watches, and two chances to win campus parking.

UL is requiring that students, employees, and visitors, regardless of vaccination status, wear face coverings while indoors, which is also a mandate of Gov. John Bel Edwards latest executive order. UL also recommends that masks be worn while outdoors on University property.

The social distancing measures that have been in place since the pandemic began will continue on the Lafayette campus. Classroom capacities have been set at 75% to ensure distancing adheres to the latest state and federal guidance.

Plans are in place at UL for hybrid, flex and/or remote instruction, if the COVID situation warrants. All class syllabi will include information related to University COVID-19 mitigation protocols.

The university will also continue to offer COVID-19 vaccinations and testing. A campus vaccination clinic is planned for Aug. 24 and 25 in collaboration with the Louisiana Department of Health.

The reasoning behind administrators' reluctance to mandate vaccines lies in its confusing legal status. COVID vaccines are in use on an emergency basis. Once the federal Food and Drug Administration fully authorizes the vaccine, state law is fairly clear that the state health department can add the COVID vaccines to the list that students must take as a prerequisite to attending school. The current list includes shots for measles, mumps, rubella, diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough, poliomyelitis, meningococcal disease, and Hemophilus influenzae Type B invasive infections.

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The lack of clarity between “emergency use” and “full authorization” seems the stumbling block for system presidents that run Louisiana public universities.

The UL System, as has the LSU System, asked the Louisiana Department of Health to add the COVID vaccines to the mandatory list once there’s full FDA approval.

“Care must be taken in order to not conflate Louisiana’s immunization schedule with a vaccine mandate," said UL System President Jim Henderson. "Adding the COVID-19 vaccine to a university’s schedule does not prevent the presence of unvaccinated students in the classroom, the unvaccinated can only be excluded at the recommendation of the Office of Public Health. Additionally, a ‘mandate,’ especially from public entities, may produce even more hesitancy. Our efforts are better focused on dispelling misinformation and providing those in our communities the clear and compelling evidence that these vaccines work.”

Monty Sullivan, president of the Louisiana Community and Technical College System, said guidance from their legal counsel is that the Legislature gave exclusive authority over such decisions to the state health officer and the Office of Public Health.

"As such, we defer to their expertise and will continue to faithfully fulfill our legislative directive of requiring all students, prior to enrollment, to provide either proof of vaccination for the vaccines on the Office of Public Health’s Immunization Schedule or documentation of their choice to not be vaccinated due to religious, health or personal beliefs,” he said.

When asked where the Board of Regents, which oversees Louisiana's public universities, stands on the policies being released by the college and university systems, Commissioner of Higher Education Kim Hunter Reed said in a short statement released by her press office that she’s working to convince more students to voluntarily get vaccinated.


Email Mark Ballard at mballard@theadvocate.com.