Blacksburg, Va. - As of last week, 47% of Virginia Tech students are vaccinated, and 2% of students received an approved exemption, meaning nearly half of enrolled students are in compliance. (Photo: Alex Scribner) Vaccination is still a big deal at Virginia colleges
Blacksburg, Va. - As of last week, 47% of Virginia Tech students are vaccinated, and 2% of students received an approved exemption, meaning nearly half of enrolled students are in compliance. (Photo: Alex Scribner)

New and returning Virginia college students hope to return to normalcy this fall, but the vaccine question looms.

RICHMOND-Are you vaccinated? If you want to attend a Virginia college or university this fall, you’ll likely have to answer that question. A majority of the Commonwealth’s higher ed centers made vaccinations a requirement to protect against a COVID-19 outbreak. Now some students have to make a choice: submit proof of their vaccination by this month’s deadline or give up on attending classes.  

Deadlines and consequences vary by school, and each have their own resources for receiving vaccinations and testing. 

Some schools like the University of Virginia ordered a flat out ban on unvaccinated students. Don’t get the vaccine? That’s your choice, but it comes with the consequence of a ban from Virginia’s campus. Instead of a ban, some colleges just put the student accounts on an administrative hold. Others, meanwhile, offered exemptions for religious beliefs or medical reasons. And then there are the schools not requiring any type of vaccination at all, like Virginia State University. Instead, in these cases, masks will remain required for all campus visitors and residents. Additionally, all students must receive coronavirus testing before returning to school. Unvaccinated students can expect additional weekly testing. 

Each school has its own reasons for putting their rules in place. But one thing is true for all of them: students and staff have to either follow the guidelines or deal with the penalties. 

Vaccination or Bust

At UVA, the deadline actually came and went. School officials said students had to submit proof of their vaccination or approved exemption by July 1. At that point, students who didn’t give either one had their ID cards deactivated and couldn’t access campus resources. Until classes start next month, if you show that proof, school officials said the cards will be reactivated and students will get access back. 

The deadline also came and went at Virginia Commonwealth University, as the school told students to submit materials by July 15. But VCU handled their situation differently. Unlike UVA, VCU has a grace period lasting about a month to accommodate second doses. Students should receive reminders from VCU to complete the COVID-19 vaccine requirement until August 16. 

Consequences for missing this deadline involve putting class registration on hold. This means already registered students cannot adjust their schedule and unregistered students cannot register for classes. The last day to register for classes is August 30.

Virginia College Policy Changes

Originally, Virginia Tech officials said they couldn’t force students to get the vaccine. They changed that stance earlier this summer, with University President Tim Sands saying it was a data driven decision. 

“We have a lot more data and a lot more understanding of COVID and the regulatory environment that we’re in than we did when we were hypothesizing back then,” Sands said. 

It also helped that earlier this month, Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring issued a legal recommendation. He said it was legal to require vaccinations on campus and that decision was entirely up to each individual school. Virginia Tech students still have until August 6 to report receiving an approved COVID-19 vaccination or exemption.

At that point, the grace period’s over. School administrators will dismiss unverified students from their fall classes. Holds will remain on the accounts until their vaccination status changes. Out-of-compliance, on-campus residents cannot move into their dorms. This puts a “hard deadline” on full vaccination at Aug 27, the last day to add classes.

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