All on-campus SUNY and CUNY students will be required to get a booster dose of the COVID-19 vaccine as soon as they are eligible, Gov. Kathy Hochul announced Friday. Hochul will also require faculty to be vaccinated against COVID-19.
The mandate goes into effect on Jan. 15.
“This is how we’re going to ensure that these campuses stay open,” Hochul said. “We can avoid this because last time we didn’t have vaccinations, we didn’t have boosters, we didn’t have the rapid testing available. So now, if we make sure that everyone’s safe when they return and continue following the practices we’ve outlined, we’re making sure students can return to college campuses in a couple of weeks.”
Hochul also announced that students will be required to submit a negative test result when returning to campus but noted that some schools will be able to provide those tests.
Anyone older than 18 who completed a Pfizer or Moderna vaccine series more than six months ago or received the one dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine more than two months ago is eligible for a booster shot, according to the CDC. People aged 16 and 17 who completed a Pfizer vaccine series more than six months ago are also eligible for a Pfizer booster shot.
Anyone eligible for a booster shot, whether affiliated with UB or not, can get one at the state-run vaccine clinic at South Campus’ Harriman Hall as well as at other mass vaccination clinics and most pharmacies.
Early evidence appears to show that boosters are effective at preventing COVID-19 infection. One study published in the New England Journal of Medicine involving more than 1.1 million participants found that the infection rate among those who received a booster shot was more than 11 times lower than it was among those who had completed a regular vaccine series, according to the University of Minnesota.
University officials had previously recommended booster shots but stopped short of requiring them.
The university’s Health Guidelines Committee “strongly supports the CDC recommendation that everyone over the age of 18 get a booster shot when they are time-eligible,” Cory Nealon, a university spokesperson, wrote in a Dec. 6 email to The Spectrum. University Communications and leadership had also collaborated to “develop messaging urging UB students, faculty and staff to get the booster.”
Approximately 99% of UB students had completed a vaccine series, but 578 students were exempt for religious or medical reasons as of late September, DellaContrada told The Spectrum in early December. The number of unvaccinated students has likely decreased as some students may have gotten vaccinated over the course of the semester, DellaContrada said.
As of early December, neither the university nor SUNY had collected data regarding how many students received their booster shots, since they weren’t required at the time. SUNY enabled individual campuses to submit data regarding the portion of students who received booster shots on Nov. 15, Jackie Orchard, a SUNY spokesperson, told The Spectrum in a Dec. 2 email.
The new booster requirement comes amid mounting concerns about the emerging Omicron variant. Early evidence suggests the new variant is highly transmissible but less likely to result in hospitalization, according to CNBC.
The Omicron variant has been detected in most U.S. states and territories and is “rapidly increasing the proportion of COVID-19 cases it is causing,” according to the CDC. UB scientists and Erie County health officials identified the variant in Erie County on Dec. 22, according to the university’s website.
At the time of publication, UB has 51 positive cases and a 5.89% positivity rate based on a 14-day rolling average, according to SUNY’s COVID-19 Tracker. Erie County’s rate sits at 10% with an average of 1,083 new cases per day based on a 14-day rolling average, according to The New York Times.
Erie County saw 2,820 confirmed cases on Thursday, setting a new daily record for the county, according to The Buffalo News.
New York state’s caseload is also increasing rapidly, with a 310% increase in cases over the past 14 days, according to The New York Times.
Private institutions like Columbia University and Syracuse University will require all students, faculty and staff to get booster doses, while the University of Rochester implemented a similar requirement for students, according to Columbia’s and Syracuse’s websites and WXXI.
Some schools are also delaying the start of their spring semesters due to the Omicron variant. Binghamton University and Syracuse University have postponed the start of their spring semesters until Jan. 25 and Jan. 24, respectively, according to WBNG and The Daily Orange.
UB officials have so far announced no plans to delay the start of the spring semester, which is slated to begin Jan. 31.
Grant Ashley is a senior news/features editor and can be reached at email@example.com
Grant Ashley is the editor in chief of The Spectrum. He's also reported for NPR, WBFO, WIVB and The Buffalo News. He enjoys taking long bike rides, baking with his parents’ ingredients and recreating Bob Ross paintings in crayon. He can be found on the platform formerly known as Twitter at @Grantrashley.