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Northeastern epidemiologist supports vaccine mandate for returning students in the fall

Northeastern University announced Tuesday that students are required to be vaccinated against the coronavirus, before returning to campus in the fall.GLOBE STAFF

A prominent epidemiologist at Northeastern University is voicing support for the school’s mandate that students must get vaccinated against COVID-19 before returning to campus in the fall and says he expects most schools to decide on the same course of action.

“Given that we have failed to control COVID-19 using non-pharmaceutical interventions, our safe return to any sense of normalcy heavily rests on the vaccines,” said Northeastern epidemiologist Samuel V. Scarpino via e-mail Tuesday evening. “Because of factors like their social network density, colleges and universities are high-risk places for disease transmission. This risk is why vaccines like meningitis are often required, e.g., in Texas state law mandates it.”


Scarpino said there’s “overwhelming evidence” that the COVID-19 vaccines currently approved for emergency use are safe and effective.

In light of those factors, Scarpino wrote, “Yes, I support Northeastern (and now other college and university) decisions to mandate the COVID-19 vaccine and expect most, if not all, institutions of higher education will follow suit.”

His comments came on the same day Northeastern and Brown University announced fall vaccine mandates for students.

Several other area colleges and universities contacted by the Globe on Tuesday said they’re either considering a mandate or strongly encouraging students to get vaccinated.

Ken Henderson, chancellor and senior vice president for learning at Northeastern, said Tuesday in an article posted to the university’s website that “we expect to be back fully in-person at regular occupancy, including fully in-person teaching, and normal occupancy in residence halls and dining facilities.”

And at Brown, university President Christina Paxson broke the news of her campus’s mandate in a letter to the school community.

“Starting in the Fall 2021 semester, Brown will require COVID-19 vaccines for all undergraduate, graduate and medical students who will be on campus or engage in any level of in-person instruction,” Paxson wrote. “Medical and religious exemptions from vaccination will be granted to students, and reasonable accommodations will be provided (as determined by applicable law).”


Governor Charlie Baker was asked during a briefing Tuesday about the possibility of other Massachusetts colleges besides Northeastern requiring students to get vaccinated before returning to campus.

“I think most colleges are probably going to discuss whether or not they want to make a vaccine sort of a requirement of coming back to school in the fall,” Baker said. “I think it’s going to be an issue they’re all going to talk about.”

Students, Baker said, should get vaccinated when they qualify “for their own sake and for the safety of themselves and their families and their fellow students and teachers and staff.”

Material from prior Globe stories was used in this report.

Travis Andersen can be reached at travis.andersen@globe.com.