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UArizona cannot mandate students to get COVID-19 vaccine under Ducey’s latest executive order

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PHOENIX (KVOA) - The University of Arizona will not be allowed to require its students to receive the COVID-19 vaccine after Gov. Doug Ducey issued an executive order Tuesday geared to protect access to Arizona's public universities.

Back in May, News 4 Tucson's Eric Fink reported that the Arizona Board of Regents and UArizona administration discussed the COVID-19 vaccination policy. University officials initially said they were considering making the vaccine mandatory for students, faculty and staff.

However, after Arizona State University implemented a new policy that requires unvaccinated students to wear a mask and take two COVID-19 tests a week, Ducey enacted a new executive order Tuesday that halted those talks.

"I saw it as a policy that would really encourage those young people that have been sitting on the fence, to go ahead and get vaccinated after all," Will Humble of Arizona Public Health Association said. "And now that option is off the table, apparently if this executive order holds."

Through this new executive order, universities and community colleges are prohibited from creating a policy that would require students to receive the COVID-19 vaccine or submit COVID-19 vaccination documents.

In addition, this executive order says that "students also cannot be mandated to be tested or wear masks in order to participate in learning."

“The vaccine works, and we encourage Arizonans to take it. But it is a choice and we need to keep it that way,” Ducey said. “Public education is a public right, and taxpayers are paying for it. We need to make our public universities available for students to return to learning. They have already missed out on too much learning. From K-12 to higher education, Arizona is supporting in-person learning.”

The new executive order did include exemptions for students participating in medical or clinical training.

In addition, the order does not stop Arizona's public universities and community colleges from continuing to promote and providing opportunities for individuals to get tested, vaccinated or voluntarily use masks.

Shortly after Ducey announced the executive order, ABOR Chair Larry E. Penley released a statement on the matter.

“Arizona’s public universities will comply with the Governor’s executive order," he said. "The health and well-being of our students, faculty and staff remains an utmost priority for the board and we will work with the Governor to ensure our universities remain open and continue to provide voluntary testing and vaccinations for campuses and members of the community as we emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic.” 

UArizona iterated a similar sentiment in regards to the executive order.

"We will comply with the Governor’s executive order and continue to monitor our public health conditions to help ensure the health and well-being of our students, faculty and staff," a spokesperson with the university said.

However, UArizona Journalism Professor Celest Bustamante argues that this decision does not belong to the governor.

"The presidents of these public universities, this is under their preview and should be making these decisions," Bustamante explains. "It's really disappointing to see this becoming politicized when this is a public health issue."

ASU response to the governor's order is listed in its entirety below:

Arizona State University will comply with Gov. Ducey’s Executive Order issued today and will communicate changes in protocols to the university community.

ASU has worked closely with federal, state and local officials to align and work together with regard to public health and safety standards involving COVID-19 since the onset of the pandemic in January of 2020. 

Along the way, we have rigorously followed the recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to manage and minimize the spread of the virus while simultaneously remaining open to our students and the public and conducting as many in-person classes as public health protocols allow. 

We have also been a key partner to the state in inventing and providing mass testing and vaccine operations for the public, providing testing and management strategies to K-12 schools to get teachers and students back in the classroom, conducting scientific testing on the virus itself, and helping the state return to pre-pandemic operations.

We announced in February that we would return to full in-person operations for the fall semester. Since the vaccine hit the market, we have communicated an expectation that students and employees get the vaccine, but it has never been a requirement.

As we bring all students and employees back together this fall for full in-person operations, we continued to follow the guidance of the CDC specific to universities and colleges and as it relates to having a campus that is a mix of fully vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals. The CDC recognizes the unique environments of Institutions of Higher Learning; the ASU student population includes people from all 50 states and more than 130 countries.

This week, we informed our student population of what to expect when they return to campus for the fall semester. We did not communicate a vaccine mandate. We reiterated our message that we expect students to get vaccinated given the health benefits, but also offered students a choice in the matter. And, we communicated a continuation of existing health protocols for students who are not yet vaccinated as they are at higher risk for infection and spreading the virus. Per the CDC:

Institutions of Higher Education administrators should create programs and policies that facilitate the adoption and implementation of prevention strategies to slow the spread of COVID-19 at the IHE and in the local community. Evidence-based prevention strategies, including vaccination, should be implemented, and layered in IHE settings. Key prevention strategies include:

·        Offering and promoting vaccination
·        Consistent and correct use of masks
·        Physical distancing
·        Handwashing and respiratory etiquette
·        Contact tracing in combination with isolation and quarantine
·        Testing for COVID-19 
·        Maintaining healthy environments (increased ventilation and cleaning)
·        Maintaining healthy operations (communicationssupportive policies and health equity)

Our commitment to working closely with the state to combat the spread of COVID-19 is well documented and has been of benefit not only to the ASU Community but to the broader community, as well.

As noted above, we will comply with the Executive Order.

To view the executive order in its entirety, visit azgovernor.gov.

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Anthony Victor Reyes

Anthony Victor Reyes is the lead digital content producer at News 4 Tucson. The award-winning journalist previously worked as a community reporter in Jasper County, Iowa.

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