ORONO, Maine — The University of Maine System announced Wednesday that it will require the COVID-19 vaccine for all on-campus students this fall semester, a university spokesperson said in an advisory Wednesday morning. Chancellor Dannel Malloy is holding a press conference Wednesday afternoon via Zoom to discuss the changes.
Malloy said discussions are still taking place between the university system and labor leaders about enacting a similar policy for university faculty and staff. Malloy said the system has a "very high percentage" of full-time staff who are already vaccinated, affording them more time "to have respectful discussions."
The UMaine System announced its plans for the fall semester in July, saying COVID-19 testing will be required upon arrival to campus for all unvaccinated students and employees. Students and employees who verify their fully vaccinated status by Aug. 20 would be exempt from testing and quarantine requirements.
At the time, the UMaine System said they anticipated requiring vaccination against COVID-19 once the vaccines receive full U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval. The three vaccines available are currently still operating under emergency use authorization, though the FDA recently announced Pfizer’s vaccine has been granted priority review, shortening the process from 10 months to only six.
But the system is now expediting their plans to require vaccination against COVID-19 amid growing concerns about the delta variant, UMS said in a release Wednesday, rather than waiting for the vaccines to gain full FDA approval.
In a press conference on Wednesday, Malloy said the Delta variant "is a game-changer, it's a killer, and it's going to make a lot of people sick."
Malloy continued to say this was a "serious" decision and one that a month ago they wouldn't have imagined having to make. He said it's a decision that's based on public health and science.
"We are responding to the public health emergency and the science that dictates our action," Malloy said.
Students who verify their status or get their first shot toward full immunity by Aug. 20 will remain eligible to participate in on-campus activities in the fall semester, UMS said in a release Wednesday. Students also have an opportunity to request and receive an exemption to the vaccine requirement for a documented medical contraindication or a sincerely held religious belief.
According to a UMS release, more than 10,300 university community members, which includes students and staff, have so far verified their vaccination status.
Exempted students and those in the process of becoming fully vaccinated will be required to participate in asymptomatic screening, face covering requirements, and other safety practices to participate in on-campus activities.
Students who do not verify their vaccination status or receive an exemption will exclude themselves from participation in on-campus activities this fall.
“Science has been our guide throughout the pandemic and suggests that almost everyone is safer through vaccination,” Malloy said in a statement. “The data around the Delta variant is sobering and we are expediting our plans to require vaccination for our in-person population as part of our multifaceted approach to student safety and public health this fall.”
Last week, Malloy shared a message with the UMaine System community amid the recent surge in cases and the rise of the high-contagious delta variant. The developments prompted Malloy and university leaders to discuss their vaccine protocols and public health planning and practices, Malloy wrote in the note.
“From the beginning of the pandemic, we’ve prioritized student, faculty, staff and community safety, followed the science, and acted quickly and transparently to protect public health. That necessarily remains our priority and strategy,” Malloy said. “While we all want the pandemic to ease, the need for vigilance remains. COVID, and particularly the Delta variant, demands that we always be ready to respond to new information and guidance from public health officials, and adjust our own protocols.”
Classes begin Aug. 30. According to UMS, every university in the system will be holding vaccination clinics on campus or working to connect students, faculty, and staff with vaccination resources in the community.
Students attending classes remotely this fall will be exempt from the vaccination requirement. UMS said around 60% of enrolled students plan to attend classes in person this fall.
This story will be updated.