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University of Minnesota won't require students, faculty or staff to have received COVID-19 vaccine

The university's president called it "a complex and personal issue."

The University of Minnesota will not require students, staff and faculty at any of its five campuses to be vaccinated against COVID-19 for the fall semester.

The university's president, Joan Gabel, announced the university system's decision Monday morning, noting both the "excitement" and "concern" people have about the prospect of a return to relatively normal campus life. 

In explaining the decisions, Gabel cited:

  • Guidance from public health officials.
  • The infection and vaccination rates of communities surrounding each campus
  • The expectation that the COVID-19 vaccines will be authorized for use in kids ages 5-11 come this fall
  • Insights from the university's "internationally renowned public health and medical experts"
  • Consultation with students, staff and faculty.

The University of Minnesota, in not requiring a COVID immunization, is breaking from some other Minnesota colleges. Mitchell Hamline School of Law, Macalester and Carleton have all said they will require students and staff to be vaccinated.

It's "challenging to address everyone’s individual circumstance through any single University-wide approach," Gabel wrote. "Vaccination is no different. It is a complex and personal issue."

Hennepin and Ramsey counties are both well north of a 70% adult vaccination rate, according to the latest data from the state. Olmsted, where the Rochester campus is located, is approaching 80%. 

The other counties in which university campuses are located have not reached the 70% target supported by Gov. Tim Walz and other public health officials. St. Louis County at just under 65% is nearing that threshold. But Polk County (Crookston campus) is at 53.7%, and Stevens County (Morris campus) is at 56.1%.

In May, experts noted younger people were behind a COVID-19 surge, driven by a more transmissible variant and a lackluster vaccination rate. These younger individuals were also showing more serious symptoms, and accounting for a higher share of COVID hospitalizations. 

Gabel said students or employees who are immunocompromised, or have household members who are immunocompromised - meaning the vaccine may not protect them - should "work through their campus’ disability resources or human resources teams to address those concerns."

The university is hoping a public information campaign (called "Get the Vax") coupled with vaccine accessibility will help boost communities' vaccination rates, and as a result, the people within it.

Related: Beer Dabbler giving away beer festival tickets for life to 1 vaccinated person

The system is encouraging people to continue health habits (hand-washing, staying home if sick, quarantining if there was a possible exposure, etc.) and encouraged anyone who wants to wear a mask to do so.

Gabel also said the university also will not ask anyone to divulge whether they have received a COVID-19 vaccination.

"Our choices make all of the difference in preventing the spread of COVID-19, for ourselves and also for our friends, colleagues, and our entire community," Gabel said.

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