University expands vaccines that fulfill student mandate, continues discussions on including faculty and staff
Yale navigates legal and public health concerns with potential faculty and staff vaccine mandate.
Regina Sung, Contributing Photographer
The University will now accept World Health Organization-recognized vaccines in fulfillment of its mandate for students, as deliberations continue over the legal and public health considerations of mandating vaccines for faculty and staff.
When Yale first announced on April 19 that students will be required to receive a coronavirus vaccine before the fall term, it was only accepting FDA-authorized vaccines — the Moderna, Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson shots. Based on guidance from Yale public health experts, Yale expanded that list to include the AstraZeneca and Covishield vaccines, which the WHO has validated but for which the FDA has not yet given an Emergency Use Authorization.
Yale is still debating whether to mandate vaccinations for faculty and staff, as there are additional legal questions to requiring vaccines for people who work at Yale. The University is aiming to have a threshold of 80 percent of the community vaccinated next fall, according to Yale-New Haven Health Medical Director of Infection Prevention Richard Martinello.
“To really have a safe campus, we need a very high percentage of the whole community vaccinated,” Martinello said. “I know that we’re not quite where we want to be at now to achieve that degree of safety.”
In June, a working group will generate a report on whether Yale should mandate vaccines for faculty and staff. The working group is made up of public health and vaccination experts, administrators and members of the General Counsel’s office. Once it finishes its report in June, it will make recommendations to the COVID-19 policy group.
COVID-19 policy group members include Provost Scott Strobel, Senior Vice President of Operations Jack Callahan, University COVID-19 Coordinator Stephanie Spangler, interim Vice President for Human Resources Donna Cable, General Counsel Alexander Dreier and others. The policy group will use the vaccine working group’s report to make recommendations to University President Peter Salovey. Salovey will have the final say and will make his decision sometime between June and the start of the fall term.
The decision is not easy to make, Strobel said. The University must balance questions around personal choice and employee compliance with its responsibility to safeguard community health and wellbeing, he added.
The Public Health Committee, which Spangler chairs, has discussed the benefits and drawbacks for mandating vaccines for faculty and staff, Martinello said. The committee has recognized that having a highly-vaccinated Yale community will allow the University to return to pre-pandemic normalcy in the fall. But Martinello explained that it is complex because of negotiated agreements with Yale’s unions.
“It’s a challenging issue that we are considering carefully,” Strobel said.
Stanford announced May 5 that it would require faculty, staff and postdoctoral scholars to be vaccinated before they come to campus in the fall.
As of now, Yale is aiming to have 80 percent of the community vaccinated by the fall, according to Martinello. Having that proportion of the population immune means that even people who could not receive the vaccine are most likely protected if someone on campus contracts the virus.
But Martinello explained that so-called “herd immunity” is not an exact threshold for when the community is protected. Vaccinating only 75 percent of the community is not a failure, and it is better to vaccinate more than 80 percent.
There are vaccines that have not yet received FDA authorization but that could help the Yale community reach a high proportion of immunity. Martinello said that WHO’s process for assessing vaccines has parallels with the FDA’s process for authorizing a vaccine. The similarities between the two processes suggests that the WHO-recognized vaccines are effective, he said. The AstraZeneca and Covishield vaccines are the same formulation, but the Covishield vaccine is manufactured in India. AstraZeneca has not yet applied for FDA authorization.
“The updated FAQ regarding international vaccines was based on CDC recommendations and on the advice of Saad Omer, Albert Ko, Jason Schwartz and other faculty public health experts advising us on vaccine policy,” Madeline Wilson, chief quality officer for Yale Health, told the News.
There is currently no data on the safety and efficacy of revaccinating people, and the CDC does not recommend it. But if students receive a vaccine that is not recognized by the FDA or the WHO, including Sinovac, Sinopharm-Beijing and Sputnik V, Yale might require them to be revaccinated, Martinello said.
One challenge of making decisions about which vaccines satisfy the student mandate is that Yale has to wait for guidance from the CDC. Policies can quickly change, and some of the guidance that University administrators are anticipating has not been issued yet, Strobel said.
“Public health policies that are reflected on a federal or state level inform how we craft university policy,” Strobel said. “We don’t want to get ahead of those public health guidelines. The whole decision tree extends beyond the University.”
Students who could not access a vaccine over the summer will be vaccinated upon arrival next fall. Travel quarantine and testing will be required.
Maria Fernanda Pacheco contributed reporting.