On June 8, the Virginia Tech administration announced that all students attending classes in the upcoming fall 2021 semester are required to be vaccinated against COVID-19. Similar to numerous other universities across the country, Virginia Tech is seeking to avoid outbreaks like the school experienced this past academic year.
“We must do everything possible to avoid repeating the challenges of the last 14 months and to ensure that students who cannot be vaccinated are able to participate in campus life and in-person learning,” said Timothy Sands, university president, in a recent email to students and faculty. “It is essential that every student who can be vaccinated, is vaccinated.”
By Aug. 6, all students must submit proof of vaccination through the Online Student Health Portal. Failure to do so will result in a notice to provide complete immunization records no later than 14 days from the due date. If a student does not comply, they will be suspended from the university, which cannot be lifted until the student submits complete immunization records.
The university has noted that, while it is considered to be mandatory for all students to receive the vaccine, exemptions exist for those who meet the criteria. Students who follow religious practices against vaccination may fill out an exemption form to request permission to still attend classes this fall. If a student has a medical condition that, if vaccinated, would put their health at risk, they can request permission by filling out an exemption form requiring a physician’s signature. It should also be noted that Virginia Tech is not considering exemption requests from returning students who have not previously applied for vaccination exemption in the past.
If a student opts to submit an exemption form, there are implications to consider. If there were to be a vaccine-preventable health crisis at the university, such as an outbreak or epidemic, the state health commissioner may require those who are unvaccinated to refrain from university-related activities until notified otherwise. Additionally, regardless of the reason for exemption, any student who is approved for exemption “will be subject to regular testing for COVID-19,” according to Virginia Tech’s website.
Responses to this mandate from the Virginia Tech community have been mixed. Some students have responded with support, with beliefs that this requirement will be beneficial to life around campus as a whole.
“When I first heard (about the vaccine mandate), I was honestly really glad, because it kind of gave me hope that things would be more normal than last year,” said Ashtyn Gammons, a rising senior at Virginia Tech studying political science. “I think it’s not a bad idea, because we’re all choosing to go to school there, and I think it’s just another thing we have to consider when choosing to go back for next year.”
In contrast, some students are against the idea of mandating students to be vaccinated in order to attend classes this fall. Much of the criticism of the requirement is attributed to the fact that all current vaccines available in the United States are allowed by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) under the Emergency Use Authorization policy, meaning that, while they meet “certain statutory criteria” for administering to the public, they are not considered “FDA approved.”
“I think that it’s a big decision that they jumped to a conclusion for,” said Sean Lohr, a rising fifth year at Virginia Tech studying sociology. “As more studies have gone on, it’s been shown that as long as we remain healthy, a large majority of us will not have any issues whatsoever.”
For those seeking further information regarding Virginia Tech’s COVID-19 vaccination mandate, the university has provided a FAQ page on its website that outlines much of the information relevant to the policy.