LEWISTON – Bates College will mandate that all of its students be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 before they return to campus for the fall semester.
“The very nature of our residential community makes this requirement necessary to protect the health of students and the broader Bates and local communities,” Vice President for Campus Life Joshua McIntosh told students Tuesday.
In addition, he said, “having a fully vaccinated student body puts us in a better position to return to the many activities and experiences that existed on our campus before the pandemic, but were not possible this academic year.”
Nearly every other school in the New England Small College Athletic Conference, including Bowdoin College in Brunswick, had already declared that students would need to be immunized before the start of the next academic year.
The move puts the college on a path for a potential return to nearly normal operations when classes resume in September, barring any dramatic change in the pandemic. It has no plans to offer classes remotely after the spring semester ends.
The college said on its website that it will “comprehensively review public health policy and restrictions” during the summer as well as Maine’s vaccine acceptance and transmission rates in the Lewiston community.
Currently, the COVID-19 situation in Androscoggin County is bad, with dozens of new cases daily and a vaccine rate running well behind the state as a whole. But there are more than three months before students would return for a new semester and much may change.
The initial outbreak of COVID-19 last spring forced Bates and most other colleges to close their campuses and switch to remote-only learning.
This year, Bates has struggled to fend off the disease with requirements that students wear masks, stay distant from each other and undergo twice-weekly testing to ensure new cases are caught early, reducing the likelihood of them spreading.
It had one serious outbreak in late March that forced students to stay mostly in their rooms for 12 days until the outbreak fizzled out after more than 80 students tested positive.
Bates told students they can get any COVID-19 vaccine authorized by the federal Food and Drug Administration. It offered to help international students with access to the vaccine.
The college does have a process to allow for medical exemptions.