Emory University drops COVID-19 vaccine requirement

Emory University is relaxing some of its COVID-19 policies. (Alyssa Pointer/AJC file photo)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer/Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Credit: Alyssa Pointer/Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Emory University is relaxing some of its COVID-19 policies. (Alyssa Pointer/AJC file photo)

Emory University removed its COVID-19 vaccination requirement, a shift that comes as the three-year anniversary of the initial pandemic shutdowns draws near.

The private school in Atlanta that enrolls nearly 16,000 students is no longer requiring the vaccines for students, faculty or staff, announced President Gregory Fenves in an online message late last week.

Amir St. Clair, Emory’s chief resilience officer, said in a statement to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that the change was made “after evaluating COVID-19 indicators across the campus community, reviewing current public health guidance, and in consultation with our own medical experts and epidemiologists.”

He said: “The strong commitment by campus members to follow COVID-19 protocols over the past three years allows for transitioning away from mandates to strongly recommending everyone follow all CDC guidelines.”

Additionally, the university will no longer require students, faculty and staff to report positive COVID-19 tests or submit a form clearing them to return to campus. The school also discontinued vaccine requirements for minors and participants in non-Emory-affiliated programs who stay the night in on-campus housing.

“Our experts strongly recommend the entire Emory community continue to keep up to date with vaccinations, stay at home if you are sick, and follow CDC guidelines for all COVID-19 matters,” Fenves wrote.

As of Feb. 8, the most recent statewide data available, the Georgia Department of Public Health reported 10,632 COVID-19 cases over the last two-week period. A year ago, the number of cases was nearly 10 times that, according to state numbers.

Emory Healthcare, which includes 11 hospitals, will continue to require the shots for health sciences students in the nursing and medical schools and for those university staffers already subject to the health care system’s immunization requirements, the letter stated.

In April 2021, Emory was one of several private colleges and universities in Georgia to announce that students must get the COVID-19 vaccine to be on campus for the fall 2021 semester. At the time, Fenves wrote that vaccinating students would “create a healthier environment” and allow for campus activities, such as performances and athletic events, to take place.

A few months later, in July 2021, amid a surge in cases due to the delta variant, Emory announced it would expand the vaccine mandate to include faculty and staff.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has said it plans to let the COVID-19 public health emergency declaration expire on May 11. The federal agency cited a significant decline in cases and deaths since the height of the omicron surge about a year ago.

Last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention added COVID-19 vaccinations to a list of suggested routine immunizations, though the agency did not make any mandates.