With COVID-19 vaccine requirements up in the air, Chattanooga schools continue to encourage vaccination | #coronavirus | #kids. | #children | #schools

Across the United States, some public and private universities have mandated the COVID-19 vaccine for students coming to school in the fall.

But so far, most Chattanooga-area schools and colleges will not require students to take the vaccine before the upcoming school year.

Several of these schools, both public and private, do encourage taking the COVID-19 vaccine, and some have held on-campus events and clinics for students and staff.

In a Tuesday meeting, the University of Tennessee Board of Trustees voted unanimously to pass a student immunization rule that does not require the COVID-19 or influenza vaccines on any of the system’s campuses. While not requiring it, the board encourages people to take the vaccine.

“If you can make that personal choice, on behalf of the board, we would appreciate it,” board chair John Compton said during the meeting.

Although the UT system does not require the COVID-19 vaccine, the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga began holding vaccine clinics on campus in March for UTC students and staff. As of Thursday, 1,279 students and faculty members have been vaccinated at these clinics, said UTC School of Nursing head Chris Smith.

“We just felt like having it on campus made it very simple, removed all the barriers for our employees and especially for our students,” Smith said. “They can walk up, get the vaccine, wait their 15 minutes, then go to class.”

Vaccines are given by appointment, and students and faculty receive sign-up emails with available appointment times, Smith said.

Chattanooga State Community College will not require the COVID-19 vaccine for the upcoming school year, and Cleveland State Community College does not anticipate requiring it, either.

“We have received no specific guidance from the Tennessee Board of Regents. At this time we do not anticipate setting a requirement that students have the COVID-19 vaccine prior to enrollment this fall. However, we certainly highly recommend it,” said Cleveland State President Bill Seymour in a statement.

At Dalton State College, COVID-19 vaccines are not required, said vice president for student affairs Jodi Johnson. The school’s student health center had administered about 400 first doses to faculty and staff as of Wednesday, she said.

Some private colleges in the Chattanooga area remain undecided about requiring the COVID-19 vaccine next year, while others will not require it.

Lee University has not yet decided whether the vaccine will be required, a school spokesperson said in a statement, but the school’s health clinic has been approved as a vaccine site with about 150 people receiving vaccines there. Covenant College on Lookout Mountain recommends the vaccine but does not require it for next year, said a school spokesperson in a statement.

At Sewanee-The University of the South, buses took students to Walgreens to get vaccinated for a couple of weeks earlier this month, said school public health officer Mariel Gingrich. This past week, Walgreens pharmacists administered vaccines to students and staff at the school’s test site.

Gingrich said the school’s events to vaccinate students are for their health and safety and because of student interest in taking the vaccine before returning home at the end of the semester.

“Whether we mandate it in the fall or not, we’d like them to get it as early as possible before they go home to their families or communities,” Gingrich said. “Many of our students have expressed that’s one of the reasons they’re getting vaccinated is because they know they’re going home in just a few short weeks to people who are more susceptible to the illness than they are.”

At Southern Adventist University, the COVID-19 vaccine is not required but is encouraged, said editorial manager Janell Hullquist. Southern partnered with Hamilton County to vaccinate students, staff and community members in events beginning March 28, with the next one set for May 16.

For K-12 schools, the only students now eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine must be at least 16 years old. Some private schools in the area have begun vaccinating students in that age group.

At McCallie School, student vaccinations are underway. At an April 13 event, 111 students were vaccinated, and a follow-up clinic for first and second doses is scheduled for May 4, said McCallie spokesperson Bill Steverson.

Baylor School soon will partner with Access Pharmacy to vaccinate students, said spokesperson Barbara Kennedy. However, neither McCallie nor Baylor have decided whether the vaccine will be required for the upcoming school year.

“We’re a boarding school and a day school, so it might be that we have a different requirement for our boarding students and our day students just because they’re living on campus and they’re living with each other,” Kennedy said. “It’s a little bit different, it just adds another layer of complexity to the conversation.”

Contact Anika Chaturvedi at achaturvedi@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6592.

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