COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) – As the omicron variant of COVID-19 gains a foothold in the United States, a growing number of colleges and universities have upped their vaccine mandates, announcing they will require students, faculty and staff to get a booster dose.
Multiple large universities in the Great Lakes region have made the decision as of Tuesday, including Big Ten Conference institutions Michigan State and Michigan.
Ohio State University has yet to add the booster to its mandate, but spokesperson Ben Johnson said OSU urges anyone age 16 and up to get the latest shot.
“As always, we will adjust our health and safety protocols as needed based on the latest scientific evidence and public health guidance,” he said, also noting that 92.5% of students, faculty and staff are vaccinated.
Ohio University also has yet to mandate booster shots but is “encouraging people to get the booster and to report it,” said Gillian Ice, OU’s special assistant to the president for public health operations, in a statement.
“If the CDC changes its definition, we would likely consider doing the same,” Ice said, referring to the federal Centers for Disease Control’s current definition of fully vaccinated being just the primary series of shots.
Michigan universities urged by omicron
Ohio State is among Big Ten universities Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, Penn State, Purdue and Rutgers to have made announcements recommending the booster, but only Michigan State and Michigan have gone the extra step.
The two schools announced spring semester mandates last Friday because of the new threat posed by the rapidly spreading omicron variant, which CDC data shows has already leapfrogged the less contagious delta variant as the dominant strain for new cases in America.
MSU president Dr. Samuel Stanley Jr. said in his announcement that the CDC’s recommendation of the booster, “coupled with the fact that the Omicron variant has been found in Michigan and is likely at MSU, has led me to this decision.”
COVID-19 vaccine makers Pfizer and Moderna have said booster shots are effective against omicron, and the Ohio Department of Health recommends the booster dose for fully vaccinated people since immunity can wane over time.
“Receiving a timely booster dose now, if you’re eligible, has been shown to restore those antibody levels and will provide significant protection,” ODH Director Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff said last week.
Specifics of MSU, UM booster mandates
Michigan State’s booster mandate says students, faculty and staff “should immediately receive” a booster if eligible (six months after a two-dose Pfizer or Moderna series or two months after the one-dose Johnson & Johnson shot).
People yet to clear that window “should make plans to receive a booster as soon as they are eligible,” Stanley Jr.’s message reads. “Those who fail to receive a booster when eligible will be considered noncompliant with MSU’s vaccine directives.”
MSU community members who already have religious or medical exemptions will be exempt from the booster requirement, and online-only students can also request an exemption.
Michigan’s booster mandate is firmer. The shot is required for eligible students, faculty and staff on UM’s three campuses by Feb. 4, and people not fully vaccinated must get tested for COVID-19 weekly.
UM also lists disciplinary actions for non-compliant people who haven’t received exemptions, as does Ohio State.
Other large universities in the Great Lakes region that will require boosters in the spring include Syracuse University, the University of Notre Dame and Wayne State University in Detroit.
Illinois on Tuesday became the first Big Ten school to announce the first week of its spring semester classes will be online. OSU told NBC4 on Tuesday it has no plans to transition to virtual learning.
Current vaccine mandates at local colleges
Ohio State announced its current vaccine requirement on Aug. 24, which set deadlines during the fall semester for when students, faculty and staff should get each dose if not granted an exemption. The deadline to complete the original full vaccination was Nov. 15.
Ohio University’s requirement was nearly the same, and both instructions require exempt people to be tested for COVID-19 weekly.
Vaccine mandates are mixed for smaller local and nearby colleges and universities. Franklin University does not require vaccination, but Capital University, Otterbein University, Denison University and Ohio Wesleyan University. None have announced a booster requirement.
OSU’s fall semester ended last week, and Ohio’s ended the week prior. Both resume classes on Jan. 10.