Students, faculty and staff at all University System of Maryland institutions must be vaccinated against COVID-19 before returning to campus in the fall, unless they have a medical or religious exemption, Chancellor Jay A. Perman announced on Friday.
Johns Hopkins University had already announced last week that they will require vaccinations for the fall semester.
Morgan State University announced their own vaccine mandate on Friday.
Perman linked the decision to the rise in variants, saying the University of Maryland School of Medicine has been examining 10% of positive COVID-19 samples in Maryland, and up to 40% of those samples are the B.1.1.7 variant, or “UK variant.”
That variant and others are more contagious than the regular coronavirus, data shows, and 40% of new COVID-19 cases in Maryland are now patients under 40 years old, Perman said.
“We’ve been living with COVID for so long now that we forget we’re still in the middle of a public health emergency,” he said. “But these variants—and the increasing disease burden in young people—are reminding us again that we’re not out of the woods.”
Perman said his decision to mandate vaccinations on USM campuses was informed by recommendations from a USM workgroup that he convened this year, comprising experts in public health, infectious disease and emergency management; USM’s 12 presidents and their cabinets; and USM’s shared governance councils representing students, faculty and staff.
“This mandate was not undertaken lightly,” he said.
Systemwide vaccinations will allow students to experience a safer and more typical college experience by being able to learn, socialize, eat, play sports and live together, Perman said.
“We want students to have these bonding opportunities,” he said. “We want them to have a college experience that breeds a sense of belonging. And if that’s our goal—to have students (a lot of students) safely back on campus this fall, then we have to do everything we can to protect that safety … the safety of our students; the safety of our faculty and staff; the safety of the communities we share with our neighbors, with whom we’ve built a relationship of mutual respect and mutual trust.”
The vaccine mandate is the “most effective strategy we have” in the effort to reach herd immunity, Perman said.
But he assured that USM will retain other guidelines, including requiring people to be tested for COVID-19 before returning to campus this fall, continuing surveillance testing, monitoring symptoms, and masking and other public health recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and others.
Perman said it was important to announce the mandate now so that families have enough time to make plans and get vaccinated before the fall semester.
“Those frustrating vaccine bottlenecks we saw over the winter and early spring have opened up, and distribution has accelerated quickly,” he said. “Vaccine uptake is the fastest we’ve seen, and now a quarter of the entire U.S. population is fully vaccinated. Plus, our universities are doing an incredible job of helping students who are currently on campus get vaccinated. This is the momentum we need to sustain.”