EAST LANSING, Mich. — Michigan State University will mandate COVID-19 vaccinations for all students, faculty and staff this fall.
MSU President Samuel Stanley said in June that university officials were "optimistic about current trends and data" and did not plan to require vaccinations for students returning in the fall. On Thursday, the university announced a vaccine lottery with $1,000 cash prizes.
But in a letter sent to the campus community on Friday, Stanley wrote that "yesterday’s CDC data is concerning and significantly shifts the landscape. Across the country and here in Michigan, we are seeing a rise in cases and are finding the delta variant is more contagious."
As a result, he wrote, everyone on campus will be required to wear masks indoors beginning Aug. 1 in all MSU facilities in East Lansing and around the state and that "All students, faculty and staff are required to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 with an FDA-authorized or WHO-approved vaccine by Aug. 31."
Stanley said there will be "limited exemptions for medical or religious reasons."
MSU's announcement came hours after the University of Michigan announced a vaccine mandate both for those on its three campus and those working or studying remotely.
"Ultimately, non-compliant students, faculty and staff will be subject to appropriate campus disciplinary procedures," UM wrote in a news release.
MSU's administration had faced pressure from faculty and students to require vaccinations.
The State News, the university's student-run newspaper, wrote in an editorial this week that, "We’d much rather require students to be vaccinated than see another outbreak that results in another year of virtual learning."
A petition circulated by members of the faculty also urged MSU to institute a mandate, saying "There is substantial risk that once students, faculty, and staff return to our campus, cases will spread exponentially."
As of Friday, the petition had received more than 1,500 signatures.
"COVID is a rapidly changing situation, but if you look at what we're facing right now, there's a highly contagious variant of COVID and in areas in the country where it's more prevalent, it spreads very rapidly especially among the unvaccinated," said Sarah Reckhow, a professor of political science and one of the authors of the petition.
"When you're thinking of thousands of people interacting on a daily basis, living in dorms together, going to classes together, participating in clubs, performances and activities, the level of protection we would need to prevent an outbreak needs to be higher," she said. "Outbreaks are really disruptive to people who desperately want to return to campus and life."
The activist group Reclaim MSU wrote in a tweet that, "Solidarity led to a victory for the physical and mental health of the whole East Lansing community. Never underestimate the power of collective action."
Zoe Chen, a junior at MSU, has already gotten her COVID-19 vaccination and said knowing others will also be required to get one "would feel safer and it will be quicker for all of us to get back to normal."
Some of her friends are worried about the side effects of the vaccines, she said, "but I think they all support this kind of mandate."
But not everybody on campus does.
"Honestly I think it's a bit unnecessary..." said Kayla Prince, an MSU junior, "because lots of people have already gotten their vaccine."
She said there are "mixed emotions about the vaccine."
"I have friends who are so for it they've already gotten their vaccine," she said, "and friends that are going to wait it out."
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