PROVIDENCE — With the holidays closing in and the spring semester around the corner, several Rhode Island colleges and universities told the Globe this week that they are “strongly considering” making COVID-19 booster shots a requirement to work and go to school.
Brown University spokesman Brian Clark said the school has not made boosters a requirement, but that Brown has “made clear that the decision to require boosters could be made in the future.”
“Positivity rates and severity of illness both on campus and in the broader community have been factors in all of our decisions regarding vaccination to date,” said Clark in an email. “Those will continue to be important considerations along with other aspects such as the size of our on-campus population in regard to our academic calendar, other measures in place on campus, availability of the vaccine, recommendations from public health agencies and more.”
Announcements of booster requirements began earlier this month on a national scale after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended booster doses for all adults who received their Johnson & Johnson shot at least two months ago and who have received their Moderna or Pfizer vaccine at least six months ago.
On Dec. 6, Syracuse University was the first college campus in the US to announce that they would require all eligible students, faculty, and staff to receive a booster shot before the start of the fall semester, “or as soon as they become eligible.”
On Dec. 9, many other universities in New England followed suit. In the greater Boston area, Bentley University, Boston College, Emerson College, and the University of Massachusetts at Amherst announced their new requirements, and Northeastern University and Boston University followed in the days after.
While no university in Rhode Island has officially announced a booster requirement, each institution, with the exception of the Naval War College in Newport, has required that all students get fully vaccinated unless they have a medical or religious exemption.
Brown, CCRI, Johnson & Wales University, Rhode Island College, Salve Regina University, and URI have also required all staff to be fully vaccinated.
Last week, University of Rhode Island Health Services sent an email to students, which was obtained by the Globe, that encouraged them to get the booster and with instructions on how to upload proof of their booster.
“As we consider the spring semester health and safety guidelines for campus based on the latest information from the CDC and the health department, we are discussing whether the university will mandate booster shots for next semester,” read the email. “Getting your booster shots now or when you head home for winter break will make it easier for your return if the university moves to a mandate.”
Bryant University president Ross Gittell sent an email to students and employees on Friday that said to “remain vigilant by wearing masks in classrooms and meeting rooms, including during exams” and that the university “strongly encourages” them to get a booster shot as soon as they are eligible.
Spokespeople at the Community College of Rhode Island and Rhode Island College said they are monitoring guidance from the state health department.
In the fall, the state health department mandated that all health care workers in the state, regardless of their employer, had to get vaccinated or else they could lose their job or their license. But Joseph Wendelken, a spokesman for the health department said Monday, “Consideration is not being given to any additional vaccination requirements at this time” for any employer, including colleges.
A small portion of workers lost their jobs for not complying with the state’s mandate. But some hospital executives are also considering imposing a booster mandate.
“CharterCARE has had multiple booster clinics for employees with good participation and will continue to offer them as needed. We have no plans at this time to require the booster for employees, but it remains under consideration,” said Otis Brown, a spokesman for CharterCARE, which owns Our Lady of Fatima Hospital in North Providence and Roger Williams Medical Center in Providence.
At Care New England, which owns Women & Infants, Kent, and Butler Hospitals, spokeswoman Raina Smith said they “are not currently considering the COVID booster a requirement of employment.”