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SUNY, CUNY to require COVID vaccinations

File Photo / WBFO News

Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Monday that all state and city university of New York students will have to get a COVID-19 vaccination if they want to enroll in the fall semester. Cuomo also announced other incentives to get more New Yorkers vaccinated, as the rate of those getting their shots continues to decline.

Cuomo says the SUNY and CUNY boards will vote to enact the requirement at their next meetings.

“So, today, no excuses. SUNY and CUNY boards will require vaccinations for all in-person students coming back to school in the fall,” the governor said. “You go to a SUNY school, State University of New York, City University of New York, you must have a vaccine to come back in September. If you must have a vaccine, get it now, if you have to get it anyway.”

Cuomo is encouraging private colleges and universities to also require the vaccine.

The University at Buffalo issued a written statement Monday afternoon in response to Cuomo's announcement: "The University at Buffalo strongly supports Governor Cuomo’s recommendation to require students to be vaccinated for COVID-19, pending final FDA approval of vaccines and approval of the requirement by the SUNY Board of Trustees, in order for students to participate in in-person classes and activities in the fall semester.

"Over the next several days and weeks, UB will continue to urge all current and in-coming students to schedule their shots as soon as possible at clinics in Western New York and in their home communities throughout the U.S. where vaccine appointments are readily available. UB international students currently living abroad are also encouraged to get vaccinated as soon as possible in their home countries.

"Since the beginning of April, when Governor Cuomo announced that college-aged students were eligible to receive the vaccination, UB has been leading a campaign encouraging all students to get vaccinated. Currently 4,200 UB students have indicated to the university that they have been fully vaccinated, and in a recent UB survey, 88% of students said they are vaccinated, in the process of getting vaccinated or plan to get vaccinated. UB expects the number of fully vaccinated students will grow considerably over the next few months, leading up to the fall semester when the university will return to a much more prominent in-person experience.

"While it is not required that on-campus employees are vaccinated, UB strongly encourages faculty and staff to make vaccination appointments as soon as possible as well."

Just one week ago, the governor said he could not legally mandate that  anyone in the state receive a vaccine. That’s because the three vaccines now in use in the United States, Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson and Johnson, have been authorized for emergency use only under the FDA’s Emergency Authorization Act. Full approval could take several months. Cuomo says he hopes the vaccines are fully authorized by September.

The new requirement comes as the state’s vaccination rate has slowed. Cuomo attributes part of the lag to younger people who are not making it a priority to receive their doses. The governor says early on in the pandemic, health officials emphasized the dangers of the virus for older people, and younger people may have received the message that they were not as much at risk for severe illness or death. He says for the first few months of vaccine distribution, only older people were eligible.

The governor says that sent an “implicit, inverse message”.

“If older people need it first, I’m younger, that means I don’t need it,” said Cuomo. “’This is an old people problem, it’s not me. I’m young’.”

The governor says downstate public transportation systems are offering incentives for the unvaccinated to get a shot. He says vaccines will be given at select Subway, Long Island Railroad, and Metro North stations. MTA Chair Pat Foye says in exchange for getting vaccinated, riders will get free tickets.

“We will be providing free transportation passes to everyone who gets a shot at one of our locations,” said Foye.

Only about half of MTA workers have been vaccinated, even though they have been eligible since January.

The governor says another vaccine obstacle has emerged. He says some summer camps are banning campers and staff who have been vaccinated. Cuomo says he’s is proposing a law that says no one can discriminate against a person who has received a vaccine.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. WBFO listeners are accustomed to hearing DeWitt’s insightful coverage throughout the day, including expanded reports on Morning Edition.