Health officials in Nevada are requiring all students at the state’s public universities and colleges to show proof of COVID-19 vaccinations in order to enroll in classes for the spring semester.
The new policy, which was unanimously approved on Aug. 20 by the Nevada Board of Health at an emergency meeting, adds the requirement into an existing regulation (pdf) that mandates certain vaccines as a condition for enrollment. Gov. Steve Sisolak, a Democrat, signed the mandate shortly after the vote, saying in a statement that he was “grateful” for the decision.
Under the emergency regulation, students have until Nov. 1 to either show proof of full vaccination or get religious or medical exemptions before enrolling in spring semester courses at any public university, state college, or community college. But those starting fall classes will not have to show proof they’ve been vaccinated for COVID-19. Those who don’t attend any class on campus are also exempt from the requirement.
The vaccination mandate was recommended by Sisolak’s Medical Advisory Team earlier this month. According to the governor’s office, the emergency regulation has a 120-day limit, and would have to undergo a “more rigorous public process” if health officials want to make it permanent.
The move was met with a mixed reaction. During the three-hour public comment secession of the emergency meeting, several people voiced their support for the mandate, while many other students and parents expressed concerns over the safety of yet-to-be fully approved vaccines, as well as infringements of individual rights.
“The data and science is clear: Vaccines are safe, they are effective, and they are saving lives,” said Heidi Parker, a leader of vaccine advocacy group Immunize Nevada. “The continued spread of the virus and the arrival of the new variants is an urgent reminder that this pandemic is not over yet, and the vaccination is the best and most effective way to protect our state.”
“This is my body and this is my choice,” said Zoe Chamberlain, who identified as a student. “I do not agree with you trying to force me to get this vaccine, and it is not fair that my education could be at forfeit, that I do not get to finish my degree next semester because I do not wish to put this in my body.”
Some elected officials also weighed into the debate, including Byron Brooks, a member of the Nevada Board of Regents that oversees the state’s entire public system of higher education. Brooks suggested that the Board of Health needs to “slow down,” saying in part that people should be able to consult their doctors to decide whether or not to take the COVID-19 vaccine.
“Now nationally, we are witnessing the failure of policy regarding troop withdrawal that has produced generational complications and negative consequences,” Brooks said, referencing the ongoing withdrawal of U.S. military forces from Afghanistan. “I’m asking for leaders regarding state health and education policy to slow down and re-evaluate this entire agenda. My concern is that mistakes will be made here that will cause negative generational consequences.”