Virginia Tech mandates COVID-19 vaccines for all students this fall

Virginia Tech is mandating COVID-19 vaccinations for incoming and returning students as the school eyes this fall for a return to full in-person learning at its Blacksburg campus.

In a Tuesday letter to students and staff, Virginia Tech President Tim Sands said the vaccine’s widespread dissemination meant the university could plan for a full return to campus next semester without the need for mask or physical distancing requirements for vaccinated community members. “The Hokie experience will be back this fall,” he wrote.

An early hot spot for rising infection rates, the spread of the coronavirus fell considerably in Blacksburg with the passing of the winter holidays and the advent of vaccines, in tandem with much of Virginia.

But despite low community transmission, Sands and other school administrators agreed to mandate vaccines for all students this fall — whether in-person or online — citing unique challenges posed by high population density in residence halls, off-campus housing and classrooms, and the expected mobility of students.

“We must do everything possible to avoid repeating the challenges of the last 14 months, and to ensure that students who cannot be vaccinated are able to participate in campus life and in-person learning,” Sands wrote. “It is essential that every student who can be vaccinated, is vaccinated.”

Students have until Aug. 6 to confirm that they have received all necessary doses of a vaccine by uploading an image of their COVID-19 vaccination card to the online health portal. Exceptions will be made on a case-by-case basis for medical reasons and sincerely-held religious beliefs, Sands said.

The policy will be enforced for students without an approved exemption: According to an FAQ on Virginia Tech’s website, any student with an incomplete record after the August deadline will be given 14 days to comply, or face interim suspension and a possible lockout from course materials.

The school is accepting vaccines authorized for use in the U.S. — Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson — or internationally by the World Health Organization, including AstraZeneca and Sinopharm.

Virginia Tech staff and faculty are strongly encouraged to be vaccinated, Sands added, with an employee survey conducted last semester reporting nearly 90% of respondents had received a shot.

“This response and the low prevalence of infection for employees in high-contact roles throughout the most recent semester give us confidence that the risk to and from employees will be relatively low and manageable if nearly everyone is vaccinated,” Sands said.

As of Tuesday, data from the Virginia Department of Health showed 46.1% of Montgomery County, where Virginia Tech is located, had received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine with 38% considered fully vaccinated. That data did not include federal doses administered.

Alejandro Alvarez

Alejandro Alvarez joined WTOP as a digital reporter and editor in June 2018. He is a writer and photojournalist focusing on politics, political activism and national affairs, with recent multimedia contributions to Reuters, MSNBC and PBS.

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