CU Regents Vote Down An Effort To Make COVID-19 Vaccines Optional On University Campuses

Snow blanketed the University of Colorado Boulder campus on Thursday, Feb. 18, 2021. Students were allowed to return to some dorms and in-person classes earlier this month.

The University of Colorado's board of regents Thursday voted down a resolution that would have made COVID-19 vaccinations optional on campuses. 

University system administrators had previously announced that faculty, staff and students would have to show proof of vaccination in the fall, or obtain a waiver. Backers instead favor a voluntary approach based on individual choice. 

Regent Chance Hill, a Republican from Colorado Springs, said he'd been vaccinated but thinks the school should wait until the vaccines, now under emergency authorization, win full federal approval.

“The crux of the issue is this is an idea of public sector in effect, government coercion, versus a notion of personal autonomy and really echoing the whole, my body, my choice sentiment we've heard in the context of other discussions.” Hill said. 

He cited a dictionary definition of mandatory and said he thinks the university’s decision is coercive. 

“The threat in this instance is you're not going to be allowed to return to CU and set foot on campus, if you don't seek an exemption or show proof or papers of having already received the exemption,” Hill said.

But the chancellor of CU's Medical Campus, Donald Elliman Jr., said CU already mandates other vaccinations. “We do mandate the flu vaccine as well and frankly we see this in the same category,” he said. 

Elliman noted that he expected the emergency authorization for the vaccine to be lifted by the federal Food and Drug Administration during the summer, “but we made a decision because we had to give people lots of warning.”

“We thought that in order to ensure a safe environment, this was a necessity,” Elliman said. “So that was our reasoning behind it.”

In April, several of the state’s largest universities announced they would require students, faculty and staff to get vaccinated for COVID-19 before returning to campus in the fall.

The University of Colorado system, Colorado State University system, University of Northern Colorado and Metropolitan State University of Denver jointly instituted the requirement.

Fort Lewis College, the first Colorado institution to issue a mandate for students, also signed the release.

A week earlier, Gov. Jared Polis and Colorado Department of Higher Education executive director Angie Paccione said they would support schools that require vaccinations among students and faculty. However, they stopped short of making a statewide mandate. 

On CU’s website, the university states:  “In support of the university’s commitment to health and safety, CU Boulder will require faculty, staff and students to receive the COVID-19 vaccine before the start of the fall 2021 semester. This is in alignment with the decision to institute this requirement for the CU System and will enable the campus to more fully return to a traditional campus experience for the fall 2021 semester.”

Another Republican member of the board, Sue Sharkey, said she too had gotten the vaccine and strongly supports it. But she backed Hill’s resolution challenging the mandate. 

“I want to make it clear. It's not because I'm an anti-vaxxer. I certainly am not. However, at this time I understand the trepidation that many people are having over these vaccines. They're new and they have not gotten the FDA approval. They are under emergency use,” Sharkey said. “And I want to respect the concerns that people have over getting a vaccine and feel that it is not something that this university is in a position to require of our staff and of our students and visitors that may come onto campus.”

The effort failed on a 6-3 vote.