Colleges are requiring COVID vaccines. What’s next?

Emerson College and Smith College on Wednesday became the latest Massachusetts colleges to announce that they would require all students to be vaccinated against COVID-19 before returning to campus this fall. Northeastern had already made a similar announcement, followed by Boston University. Others are likely to come.

Not everyone will follow suit. The Boston Globe reported April 6 that several colleges are encouraging vaccinations but not requiring it. Other schools have not yet made that decision. Some are making it easier for students to get vaccines – Brandeis announced last week that it had obtained 1,200 Pfizer doses to give students living in residence halls.

Education is the first industry to openly discuss mandating vaccines – which makes sense since schools have a fair amount of authority over their students, and colleges are populated by young adults who are often living and partying together.

Other industries are also considering mandating vaccinations, but it’s less simple for working adults. The Boston Business Journal reported that employer mandates fall into a legal gray area. While hospitals have a history of mandating vaccines like the flu shot for their staff, no one has ever dealt with the ramifications of mandating a vaccine like the COVID shots that only have FDA authorization for emergency use.

Some employers would have to negotiate vaccine requirements with unions. Businesses would also have to consider exemptions for disability, medical conditions, or religious beliefs to avoid running afoul of disability and religious accommodation laws. And employers generally have to be legally careful in asking employees about medical issues. The BBJ story found that many businesses are strongly encouraging employees to get vaccinated or offering incentives, but are not requiring it. The flip side, however, is businesses might also face legal liability if an unvaccinated worker passes on COVID-19 in the workplace.

So far, Gov. Charlie Baker has been unwilling to talk about the possibility of statewide vaccine passports in Massachusetts, which could allow only vaccinated people to participate in certain activities. The Biden administration has said it does not anticipate creating a national vaccine credential, although it is working on developing standards for people to prove they have been vaccinated, which could make it easier for private industries to require it.

Israel, which has the world’s highest vaccination rate, has already implemented a system of vaccine passports. BBC reported that the European Union is considering developing one.

The concept raises major questions about civil liberties and inequality, not to mention international travel.

Interestingly, Massachusetts paved the historical path for mandatory vaccinations. The first law allowing local boards of health to mandate a vaccine – at the time against smallpox – was enacted here in 1809. The first city to require a vaccine to attend public schools was Boston, which began requiring the smallpox shot in 1827. A case challenging Cambridge’s mandatory vaccine ordinance resulted in a 1905 US Supreme Court decision upholding the law, Jacobson v. Massachusetts, which remains the landmark case law on the issue today.




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Former Boston police commissioner Paul Evans took strong issue with the charge from Acting Mayor Kim Janey that leaders of the department neglected their duty in allowing former officer Patrick Rose Sr. to return to the force, calling for release of more information on the investigation of him in the 1990s. (Boston Globe

A man claiming to have a bomb is shot and killed by Worcester police officers. (WBUR)

Somerville remains an outlier in maintaining its strict COVID-19 limitations on businesses, including the city’s once thriving restaurant sector. (Boston Globe

A community task force issues recommendations on how Brockton can address systemic racism and inequity. (The Enterprise


It’s very rare, but some people who have been fully vaccinated are nonetheless becoming infected with COVID-19. (Boston Globe)


President Biden commits the US to cutting greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2030. (New York Times

Joe Battenfeld chides Rep. Ayanna Pressley for promoting legislation to forgive back rent but refusing to answer questions about how she has handled rent payment issues in a unit she owns in the Hyde Park house where she lives. (Boston Herald

The Manhattan district attorney’s office announces it will no longer prosecute people for prostitution or unlicensed massage. (NPR)


Five of the six candidates for mayor debate their differences on education and policing during a forum sponsored by Democrats from two city wards (GBH)


The Baker administration is working on (another) fix to impending hikes in businesses’ payments for unemployment insurance costs. (Salem News)

John Henry, the camera-shy and press-wary owner of the Globe and Red Sox, records a video apologizing to fans and employees for his ill-fated move — which was quickly withdrawn — to have the Liverpool soccer team he owns bolt from the European league it is part of. (Boston Globe)  


The state’s 15 community colleges will not require students to be vaccinated in order to attend in-person classes this fall. (Boston Globe)


Gateway City Arts in Holyoke, which was closed by COVID, is trying to make a comeback with a promoter who will book acts into a performance space. (Daily Hampshire Gazette) CommonWealth profiled the arts complex at the end of 2019.


Governors from a dozen states, including Charlie Baker from Massachusetts, are urging President Biden to order 100 percent zero-emission car sales by 2035. (NPR)

People are producing lots more trash since the pandemic started. (Patriot Ledger)


Cyber attacks are rising amid the pandemic, including at public agencies. (Gloucester Daily Times)

New Bedford’s police department and city officials dispute a report by a youth advocacy group alleging racial profiling by the city’s police. (Standard-Times)

The Fall River Police Department posts and then deletes and apologizes for posting a screenshot of a Tweet reading “Chauvin immediately stood and calmly placed his hands behind his back. Imagine where we’d be if George had done the same.” (Herald News)