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Fort Lewis College to require students receive COVID-19 vaccine before returning to campus in the fall

Colorado college students are already required to receive vaccines for measles, mumps and rubella.

DURANGO, Colo. — Fort Lewis College is among the first institutions of higher learning in the nation to require students receive a COVID-19 vaccination before returning to campus for the fall semester. 

"A broadly vaccinated student body provides our best hope for returning to the hands-on, inclusive and personalized learning environment that we all know and love," a bulletin from the university's website reads. "FLC takes seriously our role in protecting the health of Durango and surrounding communities, some of which were the hardest hit by COVID-19. For these reasons, it is vitally important that all our students are vaccinated." 

The public liberal arts college in Durango has an enrollment of around 3,300 students. Those students will be required to upload a photocopy of their vaccination card to the Fort Lewis app. 

"The big thing is the more students that we can have vaccinated, the better chance we have at having a normal semester," said Tom Stritikus, the president of Fort Lewis College. "Our goal in making the decision to mandate vaccine as part of our requirement is that we put ourselves in the best position for normal."

Stritikus said mandating the COVID vaccine isn’t all that different from mandating other vaccines that students are already required to have. About 70% of classes are already in person. They want all of their 3,300 students to be able to take all their classes the way they used to.

"Students would submit proof of vaccine. The vaccine card or some other proof that they’ve been vaccinated, to be eligible to be in classes," said Stritikus. "The idea of mandating the vaccine is our best path to stop those disruptions which are getting in the way of student learning and outcomes."

RELATED: General public in Colorado eligible for vaccine April 2

Students will be allowed to request an exemption from the vaccine requirement based on a disability or medical condition, religious belief or other classification. These exemptions will have to be approved, and students without vaccinations could be excluded from campus events in the event of a COVID-19 outbreak. 

Colorado State Law already requires that college students submit proof they have received two doses of the measles, mumps and rubella vaccines. Additional vaccines are required by Colorado K-12 schools and childcare centers, though families can ask for exemptions. 

Other universities in Colorado have not yet taken the step of requiring that students be vaccinated for COVID-19. The University of Colorado-Boulder said while the shot isn't required, it is strongly encouraged for all students and faculty.

Colorado State University has a similar policy for students and faculty, but it did say some employees who work with COVID-19 testing and in the health center may be required to get a vaccine. 

At the University of Denver, school leaders hope that 90% of students, faculty and staff will get the vaccine. They’re not mandating everyone get vaccinated, but they’re hoping on-campus vaccination clinics help them get there.

"We are hoping to offer vaccinations on campus for everyone before the term ends this year. The last day of classes is June 8," said Sarah Watamura, the COVID coordinator at DU and a professor in the Department of Psychology. "You actually have a very good cooperation when people feel like they have a choice and they have opportunity."

Watamura believes enough students and faculty will want to get the vaccine that they won’t need to mandate it.

"Our goal is to have 90% of our full population vaccinated, students, faculty and staff," said Watamura. "The hope is that we can move forward to a place where vaccination is at a high enough level that we can return back to normal."

Universities in Colorado have accounted for some of the largest COVID-19 outbreaks in the state, and the one at CU-Boulder prompted unprecedented health measures over the fall. 

Last month, Rutgers University in New Jersey announced that it will require its 71,000 students and staff to get a COVID-19 vaccine before the fall semester.

NBC News reports that other large universities -- including the University of California system -- have not yet announced that they will require a COVID-19 vaccine before the fall, but that they are strongly encouraging students to receive them.  

Colorado is one of the multiple states that has opened up vaccines to everyone over the age of 16. 

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