Omicron Booster Shots Are Here. Will Colleges Require Them?

Public health experts told BestColleges that schools are unlikely to require students to get the new omicron-specific COVID-19 vaccine boosters but will likely increase vaccine-education efforts.
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  • The CDC now recommends that millions of Americans get an updated COVID-19 booster shot.
  • The boosters target the original strain of the coronavirus as well as the highly contagious omicron variants.
  • College officials and health organizations are again mobilizing to educate students about vaccines.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommended Thursday that teenagers and adults get an updated COVID-19 vaccine booster, but public health experts say it's unlikely colleges will require students to get the new shots this fall.

Instead, experts with the American College Health Association's (ACHA) Campus COVID-19 Vaccination and Mitigation (CoVAC) Initiative, told BestColleges students should expect increased COVID-19 vaccination-education efforts.

CDC Director Rochelle Walensky endorsed a recommendation by an advisory panel that voted 13-1 to recommend updated shots from Moderna for those 18 and older and from Pfizer-BioNTech for people 12 and older. The decision was made one day after the Food and Drug Administration approved the shots and allows providers to begin administering the shots.

Vaccine mandates are a "highly individualized institutional decision" that must be made amid the tangled web of guidelines, state and local laws, and public sentiment in which they each operate, CoVAC Project Director Claudia Trevor-Wright said.

"It's not clear to me whether we're going to see new requirements in place," Trevor-Wright said. "There [are] a lot of individualized approaches to this."

For instance, there are states where legislatures have passed laws blocking schools from requiring vaccines, she said.

That's the case in Iowa, where Grinnell College last year enacted a COVID-19 vaccine requirement and planned on enforcing it again this fall. However, a state law banning COVID-19 vaccine mandates went into effect last July, forcing the private college to change its policy.

Other states have recently lifted vaccination requirements. Illinois Democratic Gov. JB Pritzker announced last July that the state would end its vaccine mandate for college students and staff as part of a gradual scaling back of the state's COVID-19 executive orders.

While they may not face booster mandates, students should expect to see increased public health messaging on campus and in their daily lives. That's because vaccine misinformation remains one of the challenges facing college health officials, Trevor-Wright said.

CoVAC will be an active participant and leader in those efforts to increase COVID-19 vaccination awareness and visibility, combat vaccine misinformation, and encourage masking, physical distancing, and healthy habits on campuses across the country, Trevor-Wright said.

"Education is a huge part of this," she said. "Do (students) know why vaccinations are needed, how to access them, and whether they are safe and effective for them?"

It will also be critical to teach college students how getting vaccinated protects their college and larger community, Trevor-Wright said.

"Colleges don't exist in a vacuum," she said. "They exist within the communities in which they're embedded and they also are their own community."

This story is developing and will be updated.