UMaine System Is The Latest Maine University To Require COVID-19 Vaccinations This Fall. Here’s A Full List.
The University of Maine System is the latest higher education institution in the state to require all students be vaccinated against COVID-19 before returning to in-person learning this fall.
With the announcement Wednesday, more than half of Maine colleges and universities have now come out with policies mandating COVID-19 vaccination for the upcoming school year.
UMS had previously said it would not require the vaccine until it was fully approved by the FDA. However, Chancellor Dannel Malloy says the rapid trajectory of the delta variant has changed its outlook.
“The delta variant is a game changer, it’s a killer. It’s going to make a lot of people sick,” Malloy says. “This policy change is because of delta right now.”
UMS students must verify their vaccination status or get their first shot by Aug. 20, 10 days before classes start, to participate in on-campus learning and activities this fall.
“The reality is that every time somebody doesn't get vaccinated, they're in essence volunteering to be a spreader,” Malloy says.
The UMaine System includes eight universities across the state and its policies affect the largest number of students and campuses in the state. All UMS universities will host vaccination clinics or work to connect students, staff and families with vaccination resources as part of the welcome back to campus. More than 10,300 university community members have already voluntarily verified their vaccination status using the UMS online portal.
Discussions are underway with the union representing system staff for a similar policy for faculty and staff. According to UMS, 68.6% of full-time employees expected to be on campus this fall have been vaccinated and verified their status.
Robert Glover, an associate professor of political science and honors at the University of Maine at Orono, says he thinks the new mandate is the right decision.
“It’s gratifying to see the chancellor and the UMaine system, respond to the concerns that I know that they were getting from faculty and students and staff,” Glover says. “It's just been really great to see the University of Maine System be guided by the science and the evidence.”
UMS will require students who are not yet fully vaccinated, or exempt due to a sincerely held religious or medical reason, at the beginning of the semester to wear masks on campus. Fully vaccinated students and staff will not be required to wear masks.
“This virus is a living thing, and what it's going to throw at us next may, at any moment, change our response, our rules and regulations,” Malloy says. “But as of the moment, we are not currently requiring in in classroom for those who have been vaccinated.”
Glover says he thinks masking should be a requirement for all community members, regardless of vaccination status.
“I will probably be wearing a mask in certain situations indoors in which I'm with lots of people, and I don't know everyone's vaccination status,” Glover says.
UMS is the latest of a growing number of colleges and universities across the nation that are requiring COVID-19 vaccines for students and/or staff. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, which is tracking the issue nationwide, there are 643 campuses in the U.S. currently requiring students to be fully vaccinated against the coronavirus before returning to in-person learning for the fall semester. The American College Health Association recommends that all colleges and universities require vaccinations for all students and staff.
With the University of Maine System’s announcement, at least 20 higher education institution across the state have now mandated COVID-19 vaccinations for in-person learning this fall.
Husson University, a private school in Bangor, announced in May that it would be mandating vaccines for the upcoming semester. Senior Taylor Olmstead, 24, says she agrees fully with her school’s decision to require all students and staff to be fully vaccinated.
“If Husson wasn't requiring it, I wouldn't feel comfortable attending,” Olmstead says.
Several other private schools, including Bates College in Lewiston, Bowdoin College in Brunswick, and College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor issued policies requiring the vaccine this summer.
Many of the policies requiring COVID-19 vaccinations outline specific deadlines for students to submit immunization records, many of which have already passed, as early as July 1. For the University of New England, if students were not already vaccinated, they would have needed to get the single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine by Aug. 1 in order to be fully vaccinated by an Aug. 16 deadline.
As required by state and federal law, all of the institutions, including UMS, that are requiring vaccinations for students or employees said in their policies that sincere medical and religious exemptions would be respected with documentation.
Beal University, another private school in Bangor, will not be requiring COVID-19 vaccines this fall. Chief Operations Officer Steve Villett says that the majority of the classes at the university are online and the school doesn’t have any residential dormitories, which were both factors that contributed to their decision.
“At this point we have decided no, but we’re still monitoring as this goes on, and that could possibly change depending on CDC and what the state says,” Villett says.
Nearly all of the schools in Maine that will not require students or staff to be fully vaccinated are strongly encouraging COVID-19 vaccinations, and many will require other safety measures like masking and regular testing for those who are unvaccinated.
Maine Community College System, which includes seven schools across the state, is not requiring vaccinations for all students. However, the system is requiring students living in dorms and participating in athletics to be fully vaccinated. The system anticipates about 950 students will live on campus in the fall, which makes up about 6% of the total student body. The majority of MCCS students commute to class from home.
MCCS is requiring all members of the campus communities wear masks, regardless of vaccination status. Students also must undergo daily health screenings.
UMS says that the new mandate, along with the steps the system is taking to accommodate individuals, is in alignment with the law and court cases that have cropped up around the country regarding this issue. Some backlash is expected among the UMS community, but so far, Malloy said the number of students who have contacted UMS concerned about not mandating the vaccine has far surpassed those who want to remain unvaccinated.
“We’ve heard form a small number of students who do not want to be vaccinated, and that could be counted on two hands,” Malloy said. “Quite frankly, we already require vaccines to attend our universities…and this is an emergency.”
University of Southern Maine President Glenn Cummings said that there may be some situations where a student who chooses not to be vaccinated can’t take a course because it’s only offered in person. Although not required to make exceptions, Cummings said the university and faculty will work to accommodate students to the best of their abilities.
“We expect that many of our professors will agree to help out and make that happen. If somebody is a senior, they need exactly one or two courses that they have to have in order to be able to graduate with that major, then we will try our best to help accommodate that particular student,” Cummings said. “But again, that's the discretion of the faculty.”
Glover said he’s not sure how he would handle a situation like that.
“I wouldn't simply tell the student like, ‘Go away, stop bothering me,’” he said. They’d instead, “figure out what we could do to make that work for that student and waive that requirement or get them into another course. And you know, and I'm going to be teaching online courses, and I'd be teaching courses live and in person, so that's doing we wouldn't be welcome to take any of my online courses and any in our department, or at our university.”
Most importantly, Glover said conversations about vaccine hesitancy need to continue. “This isn't about proponents of vaccine mandates winning, it's about the right decisions and the responsible decisions that are going to keep communities safe,” he says.
Maine has the 4th-highest vaccination rate in the country among adults, according to CDC data.