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Cuomo says New York public colleges will force students to get vaccinated

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo speaks at a press conference. | Photo by Spencer Platt / AP

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Monday announced that State University of New York and University of the City of New York would require Covid-19 vaccines for returning students this fall, assuming that the federal government give full approval to vaccines.

“If you have to have a vaccine, do it now if you still have to get it,” Cuomo said. “I also encourage private schools to do the same. Let’s make a comprehensive statement – you can’t go back to school in September unless you have a vaccine. That will be a major motivation to get the vaccine.”

Cuomo added that the requirement would be subject to standard approval of the vaccine, which is being distributed under emergency authorization from the federal government. Pfizer and BioNTech, which is being distributed under an emergency provision for those 16 and over, sought full approval from the Food and Drug Administration on Friday.

“They should give him full approval by September, otherwise SUNY, CUNY couldn’t mandate.” If it doesn’t have full approval, you can’t legally mandate… we think they will in the near future, ”he said.

Approximately 394,000 undergraduate and graduate students are enrolled in the SUNY system. CUNY serves approximately 274,000 students on campuses in New York’s five boroughs.

Some schools in New York, including leading private schools like Cornell University and New York University, already require Covid vaccinations for returning students this fall, with exemptions for medical and religious reasons.

The two California state university systems have issued a similar mandate, although it also covers faculty and staff.

The context: The move comes as the state hopes to improve vaccination rates among young people. SUNY, which spans 64 campuses across New York City, had tried to vaccinate all students on campus by this summer.

That goal was shattered by the temporary suspension of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine last month, a day after the state announced an allocation of 21,000 doses to the school system. Despite this, SUNY Chancellor Jim Malatras said the system would continue to meet its goal while making adjustments to account for additional complications, although he said at the time that officials would not consider no vaccination mandate before the start of summer.

Pressure to demand vaccines at public colleges and universities has also grown in recent weeks, particularly in the New York legislature. Senator Brad Hoylman introduced a bill that would add the Covid-19 vaccine to other doses required for private and public college students in New York City, a development first reported by POLITICO last week. It would also come into effect after standard vaccine approval.

Cuomo did not explicitly note medical or religious exemptions for the intended tenure of SUNY and CUNY, as other colleges have done in rolling out their respective immunization requirements. He said he would propose legislation “that says you can’t discriminate against a person who has a vaccine.”

In other news: In a series of other developments from the governor’s press conference, Cuomo also announced that New York is “waiving the residency requirement on vaccines.”

“Anyone out of state can get the vaccine in New York,” he said at the press conference. “So if you are a tourist and you come to New York, we will give you a vaccine.” The announcement came just days after New York unveiled its plans to start vaccinating tourists.

Cuomo also announced that eight Metropolitan Transportation Authority sites will offer Johnson & Johnson vaccines Wednesday through Sunday. People who get vaccinated at pop-up sites will be able to claim a free seven-day MetroCard or two one-way tickets to Long Island Rail Road or Metro North.

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