Local colleges hold off on COVID-19 vaccine requirements for now

Erin Bamer
York Dispatch
York College of Pennsylvania campus in Spring Garden Township, Friday, April 16, 2021. Dawn J. Sagert photo

Most colleges in the York County area are not planning to require their students be vaccinated for COVID-19 by the fall as many other higher education institutions across the country weigh in with varying decisions. 

Officials from Penn State York and Harrisburg Area Community College confirmed that they are not planning to require their students receive the COVID-19 vaccine. York College is expected to announce a decision on vaccines by May 10. 

Colleges and universities throughout the U.S. have been inconsistent so far about vaccine requirements. Many private universities have made the COVID-19 vaccine a requirement for students, but few public universities have taken that leap yet. Some exceptions include the University of Massachusetts and Washington State University. 

David Christiansen, chancellor for Penn State York, said the university is encouraging people to get vaccinated, but isn't planning on making it a requirement for students or employees next school year. He said officials are considering incentives for vaccinations, such as not requiring vaccinated students to follow certain safety protocols like quarantining when exposed to someone infected with COVID-19. 

Penn State York enrolls about 800 students, none of whom live on campus, Christiansen said. Officials have not tracked how many students or staff have been vaccinated so far. According to Penn State's COVID-19 dashboard, just three students have tested positive for the disease since Dec. 19. 

More:Monday update: 199 new COVID-19 cases since Saturday in York County

More:Pa. Department of Education updates guidance to allow more in-person learning

Harrisburg Area Community College is also not planning to require the COVID-19 vaccine, but that could change if CDC or state guidance shifts, according to college President John Sygielski. He said the college has followed national and state recommendations from the start of the pandemic, and he doesn't plan on changing that. 

None of the community college's approximately 14,000 students live on campus, Sygielski said. Like Penn State York, the college also has not tracked how many people have been vaccinated so far. Since March 2020, Sygielski said there have been 34 reported COVID-19 cases linked to the college. 

A majority of the college's students have participated in remote learning this school year. Officials hope to hold more in-person instruction next year, but Sygielski said that isn't certain yet. The college is offering multiple learning models for students to choose from, and officials are waiting to hear student feedback on the offerings before making a final decision, he said. 

"We're being as cautious as we can," Sygielski said. 

Penn State York students have participated in mostly online classes this school year, and the campus has operated at half-staffed most days, Christiansen said. He said officials hope to return to fully in-person classes by next year, with most staff expected to come back to campus Aug. 23. 

"We are just so ready to go back," Chrstiansen said.