Some Colleges Are Now Requiring COVID-19 Boosters

University students wearing face masks.

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Key Takeaways

  • A growing number of colleges across the country now require COVID-19 boosters for students and staff.
  • The booster requirement coincides with the rise of the highly infectious Omicron variant.
  • Some schools are having difficulty enforcing vaccination mandates due to legal issues.

With the rise of the highly infectious Omicron variant in the U.S., some colleges are now adding booster requirements to their existing COVID-19 vaccination mandates.

The University of Notre Dame recently announced that it will require students to get a COVID-19 booster shot in order to keep their fully vaccinated status. The school required that all students be fully vaccinated before arriving on campus in the fall, although officials allowed for medical or religious exemptions.

The booster requirement will apply to undergraduate, graduate and professional students who have been fully vaccinated for more than six months. Students are expected to comply by January 21.

NYU also announced that it will require students and staff to get a booster dose of the COVID-19 vaccine when they’re eligible, citing concerns about rising case counts of the virus in New York City, along with increased spread of the Omicron variant. Students and staff need to comply by January 18. Those who are not yet eligible for a booster shot are expected to receive one within seven days of becoming eligible.

Northeastern University has also updated its vaccination requirement to include booster shots. School officials are asking faculty, staff, and students to get their booster by January 18 or seven days after they become eligible.

Now, many colleges are following suit.

Why Require COVID-19 Boosters?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) currently recommends that all Americans aged 16 and up get a COVID-19 booster shot when they are eligible. For those who received an mRNA vaccine like the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccines, that means when it’s been six months since their primary vaccination series.

Those who received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine should receive a booster dose two months after their initial series. Teens who are 16 and up can also receive a Pfizer-BioNTech booster.

The CDC notes that the COVID-19 vaccines are still preventing severe illness, hospitalization, and death, but that public health experts are starting to see reduced protection against mild and moderate forms of COVID-19. Early data from South Africa also suggests that the Omicron variant has the potential to evade the vaccine, but clinical trial data has shown that booster doses increase protection.

There has been a reported rise in breakthrough infections with the Omicron variant as well, including an outbreak on Cornell’s campus, which has a vaccination rate of over 97%. A CDC study on early Omicron infections in the U.S. also found that 79% of those infected were vaccinated against COVID-19.

“Boosters are likely to help prevent infection with Omicron, or at least cause more mild symptoms if you do get infected,” Richard Watkins, MD, an infectious disease physician and professor of internal medicine at the Northeast Ohio Medical University, told Verywell.

While students generally fare well if they happen to be infected with COVID-19, “they’re not bullet-proof,” Thomas Russo, MD, professor and chief of infectious disease at the University at Buffalo in New York, told Verywell. Because students live and study in such close quarters, college campuses are especially vulnerable to outbreaks, Russo pointed out.

“Students are also part of the transmission chain,” he said. “They can get infected and take it home to family members and vulnerable individuals.” Protection from COVID-19 vaccines is “imperfect” over time, Russo said, but a booster shot can help raise it again.

What This Means For You

If you’re eligible to get a COVID-19 booster shot, experts recommend doing so, whether your school or employer requires it or not. Talk to your doctor if you have any concerns about the booster shot.

Difficulty Enforcing Vaccine Mandate

While many college campuses have vaccination mandates, some have had difficulty enforcing them due to legal issues.

The University of Missouri recently announced that it would no longer enforce its mask or vaccine mandate, after a federal judge issued an injunction against President Joe Biden’s Executive Order 14042, the vaccine mandate for federal contractors. School officials said, though, that the situation is “fluid” and may change.

Texas’s Baylor University also announced the end of its vaccine mandate due to the injunction. Oklahoma State University and several Tennessee universities have paused their vaccine mandates as well due to legal issues.

Other COVID Safety Protocols Remain Necessary

It’s important for eligible students to get vaccinated and their booster shot, whether their school requires it or not, Russo said.

At the same time, he said it’s also crucial for schools to continue to encourage COVID-19 safety protocols like encouraging mask-wearing indoors, social distancing when possible, and careful hand hygiene.

“It’s important to minimize risky behavior because there are more COVID-19 cases ahead,” Russo said.

The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means newer information may be available when you read this. For the most recent updates on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus news page.

11 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. University of Notre Dame. COVID-19 vaccination and testing.

  2. New York University. Important news: boosters required for all NYU community members by January 18, 2022.

  3. Northeastern University. New booster shot vaccine requirement.

  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. CDC expands COVID-19 booster recommendations to 16-and-17-year-olds.

  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. CDC expands COVID-19 booster recommendations.

  6. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Updates to the evidence to recommendation framework: Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna COVID-19 vaccine booster doses.

  7. Cornell University. COVID-19 update: moving to alert level red, changes to exams.

  8. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention COVID-19 Response Team. SARS-CoV-2 B.1.1.529 (omicron) variant — United States, December 1–8, 2021. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2021;70(50):1731-1734. doi:10.15585/mmwr.mm7050e1

  9. University of Missouri. Federal mandate update: university suspends vaccine requirement.

  10. Baylor University. Update on federal vaccine mandate.

  11. University of Tennessee Knoxville. Changes to mask and vaccine requirements.

By Korin Miller
Korin Miller is a health and lifestyle journalist who has been published in The Washington Post, Prevention, SELF, Women's Health, The Bump, and Yahoo, among other outlets.