On the same day Gov. Ron DeSantis issued an executive order limiting “vaccine passports” for Florida businesses, Nova Southeastern University announced it would require students, faculty and staff to get a COVID-19 vaccine before returning to campus.
The Fort Lauderdale-based private school with branch campuses across the state — including one in Clearwater — said Friday in a message that the vaccinations would need to be completed by Aug. 1. The university plans to offer in-person courses at the same level it did before the pandemic.
The announcement, which thanked DeSantis for his help making vaccines accessible, said individual exceptions could be made for people with underlying health conditions or “sincerely held religious beliefs.” It specified that personal beliefs would not count as an exception.
In a later statement, university president George Hanbury said the decision was made based on the most current medical and public policy information available. The university would continue to follow state and federal laws as they evolve, he said.
“We will evaluate how we can best protect our community and follow the governor’s executive order,” he said in the statement.
At a news conference Friday, Nova Southeastern executive vice president Dr. Harry Moon said he recognized the step was bold, but that as an institution with two medical schools as well as pharmacy, nursing and other health care programs, they believed it was in the best interest of health for in-person education.
“The safest way to do that, we believe, is through having people be vaccinated,” he said. “We knew it was safe — or safer — if we created barriers, or space. We knew it was safer if you wore a mask. We knew it was safer if you wore two masks. It is safest today to be vaccinated. ... The data points that absolutely vaccination is the best path forward.”
At other colleges and universities across the state, vaccines are not required, but in some places being encouraged.
At the University of Florida, where MMR, hepatitis B and meningococcal vaccines are required for incoming students, those who submit proof of a COVID-19 vaccine will be exempt from biweekly testing and a return-to-campus quarantine period.
In an interview this week with the Tampa Bay Times, UF researcher Kartik Cherabuddi, who is leading a study on the efficacy of vaccines, said he thought a combination of factors led to not mandating it, including that the vaccine is currently under the FDA’s emergency use authorization.
At the University of South Florida, which requires the same set of vaccines for incoming students, USF President Steve Currall sent out messages Monday to students, faculty and staff with information regarding their eligibility for vaccination. The university encouraged students to keep their vaccination card and send a photo of it to their parents or caregivers to store as well.
“By getting vaccinated, you are doing your part to help protect our community and bring the pandemic to an end,” the message said. It also included a list of vaccine facts, myths and aspects of vaccination that are still unknown and have yet to be studied.
University spokesman Adam Freeman said that, while USF doesn’t require a COVID-19 vaccine, no decision has been made about whether that will change after doses are more widely available.
Eckerd College in St. Petersburg amended its immunization policy last summer to include mandating flu shots prior to move-in, in addition to the Hepatitis B, meningitis, MMR, polio, varicella and TDAP booster vaccines. The college’s policy also states it retains the right to deny exemptions. It is suggesting but not mandating COVID-19 vaccines, university spokeswoman Robbyn Hopewell said.
At the University of Tampa, where students must get MMR, hepatitis B and meningitis vaccines, COVID-19 vaccines are not required.
“We expect that other health measures — such as wearing masks — will continue, as prescribed by public health experts,” UT spokesman Eric Cardenas said.