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Central Virginia Universities Mixed on Student Vaccination Requirements

Person recieves injection
A COVID-19 vaccine is administered at a January vaccination event. (Photo: Crixell Matthews/VPM News)

Universities throughout Central Virginia are offering different guidance to students on whether they should get the COVID-19 vaccine before they return to in-person classes.

During a press event Thursday, Gov. Ralph Northam said he’s leaving it up to colleges and universities to decide whether they want to mandate COVID-19 vaccinations, though he says he supports schools that require the shot.

“The faster that we can get people to get vaccinated, the sooner we can decrease the number of variants and put this behind us. While the outcome for young people is certainly better, if they contract COVID-19, they are vectors. They can take it to different places, take it to their families,” Northam said.

At Virginia Commonwealth University, students will be required to be vaccinated to return to campus. Those who fail to get vaccinated before the beginning of the semester risk getting a registration hold on their account, which means they cannot adjust their schedules or enroll in new courses.

VCU students were given a July 15 deadline to submit vaccination records, but as of July 16, less than half of them have gotten the shot, according to the university’s vaccine dashboard. A VCU spokesperson says registration holds begin Aug. 16, so students have a grace period to get inoculated.

Like at many other universities, students with religious or medical reasons for not getting vaccinated will be exempt from VCU’s requirements.

“It is not too late for those students who missed the deadline to submit the records or complete the exemption process to avoid a registration hold,” said spokesperson Mike Porter in an email.

Meanwhile, Virginia State University is not requiring students to have the COVID-19 vaccine before their in-person return. However, all students will have to wear a mask, and unvaccinated students will be required to take weekly COVID-19 tests.

Students at VSU will move into on-campus housing. Aug.13, and in-person classes will begin Aug. 23.

“We strongly encourage all VSU faculty, staff and students to get their COVID-19 vaccination prior to the start of the semester. Vaccinations are safe, effective and free,” the VSU site reads.

The University of Richmond says they will require students to get the COVID-19 vaccine, but “this requirement will go into effect as soon as one of the vaccines receives full approval by the FDA.” It’s unclear when that will happen.

While the vaccine itself is not currently required at UR, all students are required to notify the university of their vaccination status by Aug. 1. As of July 22, 76% of UR students have reported their vaccine status, and a large majority of them are fully vaccinated.