FDA Approves Pfizer COVID-19 Vaccine, Impacting Colleges

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  • The FDA has fully approved the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for people ages 16 and over.
  • Hundreds of U.S. colleges require COVID-19 vaccination for on-campus students.
  • With full FDA approval, more COVID-19 vaccine mandates will come into effect on college campuses.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has officially approved the two-dose Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for the prevention of COVID-19. It is the first coronavirus vaccine to be granted full approval by the organization for safe use for individuals 16 years old and above.

Though more than 700 U.S. colleges and universities require COVID-19 vaccination for on-campus students, many schools have argued against campuswide vaccine mandates due to a lack of full FDA approval. Some schools even issued COVID-19 vaccine mandates that would only go into effect following FDA approval. The FDA previously granted all three vaccines available in the U.S. (Pfizer, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson) emergency use authorization.

Under emergency use authorization, mandates fell into a legal gray area, making some schools hesitant to introduce them. Now that at least one vaccine has been approved, universities that were previously holding off on implementing vaccine mandates are likely to make changes soon.

Private institutions will have the most leeway with making quick changes to their former or current policies. But public institutions are often at the hands of their state governments.

Politicians in at least 20 states have signed legislation or executive orders barring COVID-19 proof-of-vaccination requirements. Those states include Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Missouri, Montana, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, and Wyoming.

To get around this, many schools have offered various incentives, from prizes to special event access for vaccinated students, rather than issuing campuswide mandates. For some institutions, regular testing requirements have been enforced in place of requiring vaccination.

Still, legal cases in which vaccine mandates have been challenged have gone favorably for universities who enforced them. When eight Indiana University students brought a lawsuit against the college arguing that Indiana University's vaccine requirement violated their right to personal autonomy and bodily integrity, a federal judge ruled that the school had the right to pursue "a reasonable and due process of vaccination in the legitimate interest of public health for its students, faculty, and staff."

The judge further stated that students have numerous options in regards to their education from taking a semester off, to learning online, to choosing an entirely different school to attend.

Over the next few weeks, it is likely that a handful of schools will be updating their requirements for COVID-19 vaccination on campus. To see which U.S. colleges and universities currently require the COVID-19 vaccine, visit our complete list.If you're still uncertain about your school's vaccine policies, visit their website or call the school's health center for the most up to date requirements.

Feature Image: A. Martin UW Photography / Moment / Getty Images