The California State University and University of California systems announced on Thursday that all 33 campuses will require students and staff returning for in-person instruction this fall to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
The new directive will go into effect once the Food and Drug Administration gives "full approval" to a COVID-19 vaccine. The Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna shots currently going into people's arms only have an Emergency Use Authorization.
CSU Chancellor Joseph Castro said the two higher education systems enroll and employ more than 1 million students and employees, and called the directive "the most comprehensive and consequential university plan for COVID-19 vaccines in the country."
"Receiving a vaccine for the virus that causes COVID-19 is a key step people can take to protect themselves, their friends and family, and our campus communities while helping bring the pandemic to an end," said Dr. Michael Drake, president of the University of California, in the joint statement.
The university leaders said the timing of the announcement is intended to give students, faculty and other staff ample time to obtain vaccinations before the start of the fall term. Both UC and Cal State have said schools are preparing for mostly in-person instruction and activities this fall.
Students will be required to update immunization documents with their respective universities as they do with other infectious diseases, including measles, mumps, rubella and chickenpox. Medical exemptions or approved exceptions will have to be cleared prior to campus arrival, according to the latest notice.
Universities across the country have been facing similar decisions as they plan to resume in-person instruction and vaccine availability has become more widespread. As of April 19, all states in the U.S. are offering vaccinations to people ages 16 and up.
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
California State University announced a new rule for this fall. Students and staff who hope to return to campus will need a COVID-19 vaccine in order to do so. This is a big deal because Cal State is the country's largest university system. The University of California announced the same rule. NPR's Vanessa Romo reports on their effort to enforce it.
VANESSA ROMO, BYLINE: The vaccine requirement at California's 33 public universities will affect a tremendous amount of people.
CARRIE BYINGTON: We decided that the impact would be even greater if we work together because these are two very large systems with approximately a million students and employees.
ROMO: That is Dr. Carrie Byington. She's executive vice president of University of California Health and an infectious disease expert. She says there is one stipulation - the new rules will only go into effect once the Food and Drug Administration gives full approval to the COVID-19 vaccines. The Pfizer and Moderna shots only have an emergency use authorization. That's a federal shortcut that allows people to get vaccinated while the companies collect more data.
BYINGTON: We're very confident, given the safety data so far, that at least one vaccine will be fully licensed by the fall.
ROMO: Pfizer expects to apply for full authorization soon, and Moderna says it'll apply sometime this year. The mandate is a huge relief for Arie Lea Kuo, a third-year student at Cal State LA, even though she got her second Moderna shot about a month ago. She commutes to campus from home, where she lives with her parents and her sister. And in addition to being a full-time student, she also works one-on-one with a child with disabilities.
ARIE LEA KUO: And I go to his house, and I work there. And it kind of scared me being told that I was going to have to go back to school in the fall while I still had this job and, like, have to expose myself to so many people every day.
ROMO: University leaders say they're announcing the change now to give students and staff the time to get vaccinated. It also gives the schools more time to alter their plans if the companies don't yet have full FDA approval.
Vanessa Romo, NPR News, Los Angeles. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.