Student leaders call on Minnesota state system to require vaccines

Student leaders are calling on the Minnesota state system to require COVID-19 vaccinations for enrollees at its public community colleges and universities, as the omicron variant is fueling a spike in campus infections.

Members of Students United, an association representing enrollees at Minnesota state universities, want the system to require all students to be fully vaccinated or tested regularly for COVID-19. Minnesota State’s 30 community colleges and seven universities currently only require vaccinations for students living in college-owned housing, participating in intercollegiate sports, or in work placements or clinical jobs.

The system‘s campuses collectively reported more than 2,100 new cases of COVID-19 in January.

“This omicron surge is the worst we’ve seen since the start of the pandemic,” Students United Vice President Arnavee Maltare told Minnesota State Chancellor Devinder Malhotra and the board on Wednesday. administration. “We need stronger guidelines on enforcement and liability.”

System employees are subject to a vaccination requirement for all state employees. But the state of Minnesota has so far chosen not to adopt mandates for all students, even though most private colleges and the public University of Minnesota system have.

The majority of students in the Minnesota state system decided to get the vaccine on their own, with 65% having received at least one dose as of Dec. 1, according to state immunization data obtained by the system.

However, some campuses are more immune than others. Vaccination rates at individual schools ranged from 43% at Northland Community and Technical College campuses in East Grand Forks and Thief River Falls to 79% at Metropolitan State University in St. Paul.

Community college student association LeadMN did not apply for a vaccination mandate. But LeadMN President Axel Kylander told Malhotra and board members on Wednesday that campuses needed to do more to increase their immunization rates.

Some unvaccinated students have been swayed by misinformation online, Kylander said. He encouraged campuses to hire students as ambassadors to educate their peers about the safety of available COVID-19 vaccines.

“For students influenced by misinformation, clarifications from medical professionals don’t resonate,” Kylander said. “A student hesitant about vaccination will listen to a classmate when he wouldn’t listen to a doctor.”

Malhotra welcomed comments from student groups but did not commit to their proposals. In a statement to the Star Tribune, he said the system would continue its approach of encouraging students to get vaccinated.

“Increasing the proportion of vaccinated students and employees is a top priority for us,” Malhotra said. “The path we take now must continue to emphasize the importance of education around vaccinations, reduce barriers and hesitation associated with the vaccine, and minimize the burden on students in pursuing their academic goals.”

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