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Two Minnesota colleges will require COVID-19 vaccines next fall. Will other colleges follow?

Carleton and Macalester, two private institutions in Minnesota, say they'll require staff and students to be vaccinated by next fall.

ST PAUL, Minn. — Carleton College in Northfield became at least the second higher education institution in the state of Minnesota on Wednesday to require COVID-19 vaccinations next fall semester, telling students and staff that the move will “offer the best protection against disease transmission in our campus community.”

President Steve Poskanzer outlined the policy in a message to the Carleton community.

“In light of our congregate living environment and educational mission,” Poskanzer wrote, “there is a strong ethical rationale for and public health benefit in requiring such vaccination.”

Carleton’s announcement comes just days after Macalester College, another private institution in St. Paul, announced a similar vaccine requirement by August 2, 2021 for staff and students. Macalester’s president, Dr. Suzanne Rivera, said “the wellbeing of our campus community should not be put at risk by personal preferences.”

Under state law, however, both schools must offer limited exemptions to students, for either medical or non-medical reasons – just as they must for other required vaccines like MMR or tetanus boosters. For all exemptions, the Minnesota Department of Health mandates that parents submit notarized forms explaining their reasoning.

However, these exemptions seem to be rare. A Macalester spokesperson said not a single student asked for a non-medical vaccine exemption last year, and that for the past five years, fewer than three students per year submitted forms for non-medical reasons.

Elise Gautier, a freshman at Macalester, said she welcomes the school’s announcement – and that most people she knows are already getting vaccinated.

“It’s going to be a lot easier for us to get back to ‘normal life’ next year,” she said. “We’re not quite there yet, but I definitely can see how this is the start of the end with COVID stuff, so it’s really exciting to see.”

Schools across the state are carefully navigating the issue of vaccine requirements. Dr. Amy Kelly, the medical director at St. Catherine University in St. Paul, told KARE 11 earlier this month that the school is having ongoing conversations about the vaccine. However, with the vaccine being under emergency use authorization by the FDA, Kelly said it “alters legally our ability to mandate or require a vaccine.”

For public institutions, the situation is similarly tricky. A University of Minnesota spokesperson said Wednesday that it “has not made a final decision regarding COVID-19 vaccine requirements... At this time, we continue to actively track and follow federal and state laws and guidance regarding the use, administration and approval of vaccines. We trust that the legal and regulatory landscape will become more developed in the coming months as the vaccines become more accessible.”

David Jones, the Vice President for student affairs and enrollment management at Minnesota State-Mankato, also told KARE 11 earlier this month that despite no requirement yet, "it is our hope, of course for us, that every Maverick tries to make the best decision that they can to take care of other Mavericks – for many of us that is going to mean making the choice to receive the vaccine.”

Across the country, prominent private schools like Duke and Syracuse have announced plans to require the vaccine next fall. In California, the two public systems (California State and University of California) will also require vaccinations.

Tobias Gilbert, a Macalester College sophomore, said he hopes more schools implement the requirements.

“I’m very happy they made the decision,” Gilbert said. “I think, in order to have a safe campus and actual classes – which are a better learning environment – it is important to have vaccinations.”