(Nevada Current file photo)
Students attending a university, community college, or state college in Nevada will need to be fully vaccinated for Covid-19 by November 1 to enroll for classes in the spring 2022 semester, under an emergency regulation approved by the Nevada Board of Health in a unanimous vote Friday.
But the board rejected requests from faculty to implement a vaccine requirement for the fall semester.
Under Friday’s decision, students at Nevada’s public colleges and universities will be required to get vaccinated by the November deadline or will not be permitted to enroll in courses in the spring, with few exceptions.
Students will not be barred from attending fall semester classes in which they are already enrolled if they are unvaccinated by Nov. 1.
There is no option to choose regular testing instead of vaccination, however, exceptions will be granted for eligible documented medical conditions as well as religious beliefs.
The 2022 spring semester timeline is in keeping with the recommendation of Gov. Steve Sisolak’s Medical Advisory Team
In recent weeks, NSHE staff and faculty pushed for the board to mandate a Covid-19 vaccine requirement for college students before the start of the fall semester on August 23.
However, Trudy Larson, who has served as a member of Nevada’s Medical Advisory Team and serves on the health board, said a vaccine mandate “would be impossible to implement for fall semester” as it would require at least 6 weeks to get students fully vaccinated and protected.
Earlier this month, Nevada System of Higher Education (NSHE) legal counsel concluded that only the State Board of Health may require vaccination for university and college students, effectively absolving NSHE and the board of regents of making a decision. With no federal guidance, colleges and universities are struggling to implement plans to safely reopen.
After nearly four hours of public comments, the Board of Health voted unanimously to approve the emergency regulation. The board’s decision comes as Nevada faces a new wave of Covid-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths due to the highly contagious Delta variant.
In addition to being more infectious, the Delta variant appears to spread more readily among children, as well as young adults.
Covid-19 can cause death and serious illness, including long Covid, where a person has symptoms of the disease for more than two months, or multisystem inflammatory syndrome, where the heart, lungs, kidneys, brain, skin, eyes or other organs become inflamed.
Vaccination is critical to keeping students and staff safe and in school, Ishen Azzam, the chief medical officer of the Nevada Division of Public & Behavioral Health told the board. Though it’s still possible to contract Covid while vaccinated, Azzam stressed that 97 percent of patients hospitalized with Covid-19 in Nevada were unvaccinated
“It’s extremely safe and it’s extremely effective, However there is nothing that’s 100 percent effective,” said Azzam. “That’s why we see individuals getting infected. But we know for sure that those in the hospital and those who die… over 97 percent of them were not vaccinated.”
Although the board declined to implement a vaccine mandate for the fall semester, Larson said the vaccine is needed to blunt the pandemic.
“This vaccine has undergone every single safety and effectiveness study that is required for licensure. It had over 60,000 people participate in the trials which is more than any vaccine we’ve seen …and it passed all of them. This is one of the safest vaccines that has ever been produced and it is highly effective,” said Larson.
Before the board voted, there were nearly four hours of public comment from students and parents who opposed the vaccine mandate.
NSHE Regent Byron Brooks also spoke against the mandate during the meeting, comparing the expedited emergency mandate to the Afganistan “troop withdrawal that has produced generational complications and negative consequences.”
Students against the mandate argued that the mortality rate of Covid-19 is low, especially for young people, adding they did not believe the vaccine was effective due to reported breakthrough cases.
Many anti-mandate speakers insisted that mask requirements were an assault on “medical freedom” and “medical choice.”
Several opponents of the mandate emphasized they were not anti-vaccine but opposed the mandate for college students because it has not been approved by the federal Food and Drug Administration and feared lasting adverse effects.
“The emergency authorization” means that they approve the vaccine for the uses in the emergency and the emergency is covid,” Larson responded, emphasizing the safety of the vaccine. “This is probably the most monitored vaccine we’ve ever had because there’s such huge public interest.”
Several students also spoke in favor of the vaccine during the meeting, arguing it is needed for a safe return to in-person classes and a return to the normal college experience many have lost in the last year.
“The only way of combating this is implementing a Covid-19 vaccine,” said Abraham Lugo, UNLV ‘s Student Body Vice President. “If we do not, nothing will be done to combat this virus and numbers will continue to grow. We will get shut down, once again, and countless people, once again, will die due to the refusal to mask up and get vaccinations.”
Faculty and public health officials largely spoke in favor of the vaccine mandate, including representatives of the Nevada Department of Public and Behavioral Health, the Council of Faculty Senate Chairs, the NSHE COVID-19 Task Force, Immunize Nevada, the Nevada Faculty Alliance, the Nevada State Medical Association, and the director of the UNLV Health Law Program, on behalf of the UNLV William S. Boyd School of Law.
The NSHE Covid-19 Task Force “unanimously provided me with the recommendation that the Covid-19 vaccine mandate be imposed for all NSHE students at every NSHE campus” said Melody Rose, Chancellor of NSHE.
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