Health Officials Requiring COVID Vaccine For Nevada College Students

Nevada college students will be required to be vaccinated against COVID-19 to attend on-campus classes.

The state Board of Health today approved adding COVID-19 to the list of required vaccinations for students at all public universities and colleges. The vote does not affect the fall semester, which starts as soon as Monday, but students do need to be fully vaccinated by Nov. 1 in order to register for spring 2022 classes.

The Board of Health, not the Nevada System of Higher Education or Board of Regents, has the legal authority to require certain vaccines of students. However, NSHE chancellor Melody Rose said collegiate leaders back a vaccine mandate as “the safest and most effective way to ensure in-person learning, and ultimately, to stamp out this wicked virus.”

The vote came after roughly three hours of comment, much of it in vehement opposition. The verbal comments added to the 230 written comments and countless remarks in the chat attached to the remotely held meeting.

UNR chemistry professor Kent Ervin, who also serves as state president of the Nevada Faculty Alliance, asked the board to promptly implement new regulations. He noted that two students have already told him they were in quarantine after testing positive for the disease and wouldn’t be attending his first lecture Monday.

UNLV law professor David Orentlicher, who is also a state assemblyman, physician and director of UNLV’s health law program, said the university’s mission statement says to promote community well-being.

“Right now the most important thing we can do to promote the well-being of our college and university communities is to limit the spread of COVID and make sure that our campuses are safe spaces for students, staff, faculty and visitors,” he said.

“Please ignore the disinformation that seems to be spreading as fast as the virus,” Ervin said.

UNLV law school student Pranava Moody, a disabled veteran and advocate for other people with disabilities, said all students deserve a safe learning environment.

“Do not be persuaded by partisan idolatry created during a state of fear. Do not play with the lives that will comprise the future of this state,” he said. “It is an ableist train of thought to keep this vaccine as a voluntary action in combating this pandemic. This will only create a less safe environment for those members of our community who are medically fragile.”

Opponents questioned the efficacy of the vaccine in preventing contraction or spread of COVID-19, its safety, its federal approval status — all of which doctors and other public health experts at the meeting attempted to counter or explain. Others said young adults have a very high survival rate when they do catch COVID-19. Others said shot mandates infringe on their freedom to control their own bodies.

“The government and local institutions do not, I repeat do not, have autonomy over our bodies,” said one woman in a voice quivering with emotion. “I firmly believe that most people, including the vaccine hesitant, are just trying to do the right thing.”

College of Southern Nevada student body president Zachary Johnigan said a campus survey showed that more students opposed mandatory COVID-19 vaccines than supported them. He said the survey got more than 9,700 responses in six days, more feedback than any previous CSN survey, and was the voice of students.

He said everyone should have the right to choose what they put inside their body.

“That right should not interfere with their ability to pursue higher education that empowers them to achieve, succeed and prosper,” Johnigan said.

CSN student Sandra Kourik said patient rights, under state law, allow people to refuse medical treatment.

“I would consider this vaccine for COVID as a treatment,” she said.

Proof of inoculation against other diseases, however, has historically been required to attend school. Today’s move adds vaccines against COVID-19 to the list of required shots for college students that includes shots against tetanus, diphtheria, measles, mumps, rubella and bacterial meningitis. As with those vaccines, students can get exemptions for religious or medical reasons.

College and university employees, including professors, have to be fully vaccinated against the coronavirus or submit to weekly testing as part of a mandate Gov. Steve Sisolak issued last month for all state employees.

The comment period after the board’s vote was full of reaction: One woman said she was “devastated;” a man said the requirement was a “crime against humanity;” others deemed a mandate as fostering “medical apartheid” and “medical rape culture.”

The new regulation is valid for at least 120 days and would need to undergo a more rigorous process to be made permanent, should public health and higher education officials think it’s necessary.


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