SUNY Lifts COVID Vaccine Requirement for Students

Legislative Gazette file photo
COVID testing on the campus of SUNY New Paltz. SUNY first began mandating their students to be vaccinated before resuming in-person classes on June 23, 2021.

State University of New York Chancellor John King announced on Tuesday, April 11 that the mandate for student COVID-19 vaccine requirements will be lifted in tandem with President Joe Biden’s announcement the previous day that the country is no longer in a state of national emergency

Though the vaccine is now non-obligatory, it is still strongly encouraged that SUNY students and faculty stay up to date on their vaccines, similarly to other threatening but not imminent diseases such as mpox and influenza. 

While it is reassuring to see the progress we’ve made against the COVID-19 pandemic, precautions are still very important to ensure that progress continues,” said Acting State Health Commissioner Dr. James McDonald. “The Department reminds people that we are fortunate to have easily accessible safe and effective vaccines. High risk individuals such as people 65 and older, as well as younger people with underlying conditions should make sure they are up to date with the vaccine. The Department will continue to consult with SUNY administrators as we monitor the data and align recommendations with those issued by the CDC as we transition out of the Public Health Emergency.”

SUNY first began mandating their students to be vaccinated before resuming in-person classes on June 23, 2021. By the time the fall semester had begun SUNY was able to report that they had a 99.5% compliance rate for vaccination requirements amongst their student population, seeing as how most students were not able to be enrolled on campus unless they were vaccinated or if they were pardoned from the mandate due to religious or health exceptions. 

The controversial requirement was criticized by some New York state lawmakers who thought that mandating a vaccine for students that was still technically in its clinical trial stages was unethical.

Assemblywoman Jodi Giglio, R-Riverheard, held a press conference in July 2021 to voice her concerns about forcing college students to choose between getting a degree and getting a vaccine that was yet to be approved by the Federal Food and Drug Administration. It was only a few months in August of 2021 later that the FDA approved the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, even though the normal trial time of safely testing a vaccine can take several years. 

Pfizer began its trial for their COVID-19 vaccine on July 27, 2020 and authorized its official use on Dec. 2, 2020. 

Former President Donald Trump had declared the country in a state of national emergency in March of 2020, and as soon as current President Biden took office, he extended the state of emergency for two more years. He was responding to the different variants of COVID-19 that were continuing to claim the lives of millions of Americans who needed the full support from the federal government. 

“I’m very pleased to see SUNY’s vaccine mandate come to an end. It was long overdue and represents an important symbolic step in putting the pandemic behind us,” says Assembly Minority Leader Will Barclay, R-Pulaski. “I know in my district the mandate caused a great deal of unnecessary confusion and frustration.”

Barclay noted that high school students who participate in P-Tech classes on SUNY campuses were under no mandate in their own school, but faced the threat of being thrown out of the program held on a SUNY campus. 

“Regardless of one’s position on COVID vaccines, why were SUNY faculty never under a vaccine requirement but students were not allowed in class without getting the shot,” Barclay questioned. “Fortunately for all, the mandate is behind us.”