Maryville College announced Monday, April 26, that it is “requiring, with some exceptions,” that students, faculty and staff receive COVID-19 vaccines by Aug. 1.

Since one of the exceptions is “personal preference,” President Bryan Coker explained that the college hopes to set a high bar with expectations for the vaccine so that the college can resume more in-person activities in the fall semester.

“We have previously shared the College’s intention to have a fully in-person experience this Fall, and for that to occur, a significant majority of our campus population must be vaccinated against COVID-19,” said a memo from Coker and other administrators to the college community on Monday, April 26. “These vaccines, which have been deemed safe and effective by the scientific and medical communities, prevent people from becoming seriously ill from the coronavirus, and inhibit asymptomatic spread.”

“We are setting the expectation for our community that if you want life to return to pre-COVID ... we’re going to have to get the majority of the community vaccinated,” Coker said.

The college will monitor numbers throughout the summer, but the proportion who would need to be vaccinated may be in the range of 70%.

“While we respect the decisions of students and families who decide not to be vaccinated at this time, it is important for the health of our campus this fall — and for our ability to return to more normal operations — that the majority of the campus population receive the COVID-19 vaccine,” Coker said in a statement from the college.

Waivers

Under Tennessee law, young full-time college students are required to have vaccines against measles, mumps and rubella (usually administered together in two doses), as well as chickenpox (also two doses). Students may seek a waiver for medical or religious reasons, and the private college will offer those options for the COVID-19 vaccine, too.

Coker said the college is offering the “personal preference” exception for the COVID-19 vaccines because the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is allowing them during this pandemic as an “emergency use authorization.”

“Once it is no longer under emergency use authorization, once there is formal FDA approval of a vaccine, we’ve given the community notice that we may very well at that point remove the personal preference exception,” Coker told The Daily Times.

Incentives

For the fall semester, the college again expects to allow students to have a roommate, after changing dorms to single occupancy this year.

Students who have been vaccinated will not be required to quarantine during the fall semester unless they develop COVID-19 symptoms. Coker said the college also is not expecting to offer the same level of quarantine support it has had for students during this academic year.

Maryville College has been reporting COVID-19 cases weekly on its website this semester, and April 14-20 reported two new cases.

The college is offering incentives to students who report their COVID-19 vaccinations. The first, for those who report by June 30, will be for 20 students to each receive $250 vouchers to the campus bookstore.

Shots on campus

To make it easy to obtain the shots, the college is working with the Blount County Health Department to host Pfizer vaccine clinics on campus from 9 a.m. to noon April 29 and April 30.

The clinic also is open to the wider community, including those who still need their second Pfizer dose after 21 days since the first shot.

Reporting vaccines by Aug. 1 will allow the college to make adjustments before fall classes begin Aug. 19.

“We do anticipate as the fall semester comes about that we will have some masking and physical distancing happening but are hopeful that perhaps by the beginning of 2022 we can relax that, again depending on the herd immunity,” Coker said.

The Tennessee Board of Regents would set any requirements for the state’s public colleges and universities and is unlikely to make a COVID-19 vaccine mandatory at this time.

The Tennessee House of Representatives last week passed a bill, 72-20, that would bar state or local government agencies from requiring a COVID-19 vaccine. The Senate is scheduled to vote on the legislation Wednesday, April 28.

Amy Beth earned her degree from West Virginia. She joined The Daily Times in 2016 on the education beat covering Alcoa, Maryville and Blount County school systems.

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