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Edward Waters University backs away from vaccination requirement for on-campus students

University will no longer require proof of vaccination to attend classes in-person this fall

Vaccination Site at Edward Waters
Vaccination Site at Edward Waters

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – After sending a letter to students on Monday saying that any student studying in-person must provide proof that they’ve been vaccinated against COVID-19, Edward Waters University reversed its position on Friday.

EWU said the decision to back away from the vaccine requirement comes after hearing concerns from the community.

“Per the letter that was sent on July 19, 2021 regarding COVID-19 protocols and vaccinations, it was our desire, as it has always been, to best ensure the health, safety, and welfare of our entire community, including students, faculty, and staff. We fervently believe that vaccination of our community members is absolutely critical and urgently necessary to meeting our highest priority – maintaining the safety and wellbeing of our university family,” a letter from university President Zachary Faison to students reads. “As such, and despite the recent resurgence of record high COVID-19 related hospitalizations in Jacksonville and throughout our state, we remain hopeful that our Tiger scholars will exercise the necessary due diligence in protecting our collective health and wellness. Towards that end, while the vaccine was never made mandatory for students, all students will be afforded on-campus access to classes, campus facilities, and activities, where available.”

RELATED: US colleges divided over requiring student vaccinations

The university previously said it would require students to show their proof of vaccination card in order to check in.

Some EWU students pushed back against the university’s previous policy, even describing it as a “violation of human rights” and an online petition garnered more than 370 signatures calling for the university to retract it.

“Many students have scholarships, or even volatile living situations and giving them an ultimatum regarding the vaccine is immoral,” the online petition’s description said. “Putting anything in your body should be a calculated choice, not a means to avoid social punishment. This move will deter students from the institution and impede on the social, mental health of the students more than it already has.”

The petition claimed EWU’s vaccination requirement for on-campus activities is in violation of Gov. Ron DeSantis’ executive order banning businesses from requiring “vaccine passports” for access or services.

“As was indicated in the previous correspondence, COVID-19 remains a rapidly changing and dynamic threat that requires continuous adaptability. EWU has and will continue to update and revise its plans and responses in support of the overall safety and well-being of our EWU community,” EWU said.

Most other higher education institutions in Northeast Florida are “strongly recommending” students and staff to be vaccinated.

“UNF highly encourages vaccinations and mask-wearing for those unvaccinated, but we have no mandate,” a University of North Florida spokesperson told News4Jax Friday.

University of North Florida's website spells out the campus policy for COVID-19 safety. (University of North Florida)

“We are not requiring vaccines, but we are strongly encouraging wearing masks,” a spokesperson for Florida State College at Jacksonville said. “It’s also important to note that we have held several vaccination clinics on campus and plan to host several more as we get back on campus this fall.”

Meanwhile, Jacksonville University said it’s still monitoring the pandemic situation.

“Jacksonville University’s COVID-19 Task Force is closely monitoring the rates of new cases and hospitalizations in northeast Florida as we finalize all of our plans for fall. At this point in our planning, we know that vaccinated individuals will be able to avoid certain precautions such as having to quarantine after a possible exposure if they are without symptoms,” a JU spokesperson said. “This aligns with CDC guidance due to the high level of protection offered by the vaccine. We continue to explore whether additional precautions will be needed for unvaccinated individuals this fall, weighing all the latest research, public health guidance and local conditions. Our expectation is to return to a largely normal fall term.”

EWU plans to provide access to either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine on-campus through Agape Mobile Health Services on the following dates:

  • Aug. 1-2
  • Aug. 6-7
  • Au.g. 12-13

Information about the COVID-19 vaccine can be found on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website.

Full statement from Edward Waters University:

Dear Edward Waters University Tiger Scholars:

Per the letter that was sent on July 19, 2021 regarding COVID-19 protocols and vaccinations, it was our desire, as it has always been, to best ensure the health, safety, and welfare of our entire community, including students, faculty, and staff. We fervently believe that vaccination of our community members is absolutely critical and urgently necessary to meeting our highest priority – maintaining the safety and wellbeing of our university family.

Nevertheless, university administration has been hearing from the EWU community since the dissemination of that correspondence—some expressing support and others sharing questions and concerns. We have thoughtfully considered all of the views and opinions shared. As was indicated in the previous correspondence, COVID-19 remains a rapidly changing and dynamic threat that requires continuous adaptability. EWU has and will continue to update and revise its plans and responses in support of the overall safety and well-being of our EWU community.

As such, and despite the recent resurgence of record high COVID-19 related hospitalizations in Jacksonville and throughout our state, we remain hopeful that our Tiger scholars will exercise the necessary due diligence in protecting our collective health and wellness. Towards that end, while the vaccine was never made mandatory for students, all students will be afforded on-campus access to classes, campus facilities, and activities, where available.

EWU takes pride in its community, which has rallied heroically over the last 18 months to maintain a safe environment for teaching and learning. Our university has and will continue to collaborate in support of students, faculty, and staff via numerous academic, co-curricular, physical and mental health initiatives and programs.

We will continue that same commitment in earnest for the coming academic year as we offer vaccinations to our campus community and beyond to prioritize safety in our environment, which we believe will support excellent outcomes for our university.

If you have additional questions, please reach out to the following appropriate persons:

A. Zachary Faison Jr., President and Chief Executive Officer

About the Author:

McLean is a reporter with WJXT, covering education and breaking news. He is a frequent contributor to the News4Jax I-team and Trust Index coverage.