URBANA – The University of Illinois plans a return to near normal class schedules in the fall, and campus life free of face masks, social distancing and regular testing for the coronavirus. But university officials say that’s only possible with COVID-19 vaccinations for everybody.
U of I President Tim Killeen announced the vaccination requirement for students at all three of the university’s campuses in a mass email Monday, stating that the requirement was a continuation of “our commitment to collective safety.”
“This requirement is consistent with our own scientific modeling of the risks associated with the spread of the virus and its variants,” Killeen stated. “It is also consistent with the Illinois Department of Public Health’s goals.”
Killeen wrote that the vaccination requirement was especially necessary, to protect others who would be unable to be vaccinated, due to health conditions or other reasons.
“Those who are not vaccinated will need to follow campus-specific guidelines and any exemption protocols issued by each university,” Killeen wrote.
On the Urbana campus, Chancellor Robert Jones issued his own mass email about vaccination requirements. Jones stated that those who were not vaccinated, or whose vaccination had not been verified by the university would have to continue with face masks, social distancing, and the regular COVID-19 saliva tests that the university instituted last summer.
In a separate email to faculty and staff, Jones said that vaccinations would not be mandatory for them.
“However, faculty and staff who are not vaccinated will have to continue to wear face coverings and participate in the COVID-19 testing program,” Jones wrote.
The new policy means that students, faculty and staff will have to verify for health officials on their campus that they’ve received a university-accepted vaccine. Urbana campus spokesperson Robin Kaler says students at the U of I’s flagship campus will upload images of their vaccination cards to the Medicat Portal operated by the campus’ McKinley Health Center.
“So you would need to upload your vaccine card, offer your consent for us to check that,” said Kaler. “And we will check it, and make sure that you are vaccinated, so you can get out of the testing and the social distancing and the mask-wearing.”
Kaler did not respond to a question about students or others on campus who might refuse to be vaccinated, despite having no medical or other reason that the university would consider valid.
But she noted that the vaccination rate on the Urbana campus is already high. She said 74.6% of the students, faculty and staff on campus had gotten at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, as of the end of the spring semester. The percentage was highest among graduate students, at 84%.
The University of Illinois is the first public university in Illinois to require COVID-19 vaccinations for its students, according to bestcolleges.com
Private schools in Illinois requiring vaccinations include Northwestern University, the University of Chicago and Knox College in Galesburg.
(This article has been revised to broaden the potential category of reasons under which a student may decide not to be vaccinated. – JM 6/24/21)