News Story

MSU ends COVID-19 vaccine mandate

MSU says COVID-19 is now a matter of ‘personal health responsibility,’ not a public health crisis

Michigan’s two largest public universities are taking different stances on whether to require students, staff and faculty to receive COVID-19 vaccinations.

The University of Michigan recently announced it will require the vaccination of students living on campus in the fall 2023 term, but Michigan State University has reversed course. MSU will no longer require a COVID-19 vaccination for students and employees.

U-M announced its COVID-19 vaccination requirement for fall 2023 on Feb. 20. MSU gave notice that it will no longer require the vaccine, as of Feb. 28.

“As the pandemic continues to shift from an acute public health crisis to a personal health responsibility, MSU no longer will require the COVID-19 vaccination for students, staff and faculty, effective today,” MSU University Physician Michael Brown wrote in his letter announcing the new policy.

As Brown writes in his statement:

Now, as both the virus and our understanding of it continues to evolve, there is widespread protection due to the number of individuals vaccinated. New vaccine boosters and treatment options are widely available, and we know better how to protect those most vulnerable.

It is unclear why U-M prolonged the requirement, as Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said on Jan. 10, 2022, that the vaccine does not prevent transmission of the coronavirus. The university did not respond to an email seeking comment.

Only 49% of Michiganders had taken a vaccine when MSU imposed its mandate on Aug. 31, 2021. The number for the state now stands at 59%.

The numbers look different, however, for the share of Michigan’s population that is up-to-date on COVID vaccines. Most people are considered fully vaccinated when they have had two initial doses and at least one booster. Some, however, chose a vaccine that only requires one shot and a booster. Only 16% of state residents have all of the recommended COVID-19 vaccines, which is what MSU required. Ingham County, home to MSU, has a slightly higher rate of 19%.

Businesses, governments and schools are slowly dropping mandates after the Biden administration announced plans to officially end the public health emergency in May. Yet the incidence of COVID in the MSU area is close to what it was when the university created its mandate.

Ingham County averaged 0.4 COVID deaths per day when MSU first announced the requirement. The daily average is currently 0.5, according to The New York Times COVID tracker. The test positivity rate was 8% when the mandate went into effect. It is now 14%, which means the virus is more active than it was before the mandate.

MSU still faces a lawsuit filed by the New Civil Liberties Alliance in the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on behalf of three former university employees. The plaintiffs were fired because they refused to take a COVID shot, arguing they have natural immunity after contracting the virus shortly before MSU announced its mandate.

The case is still awaiting a decision from the court. Since judges heard the case in December, a new study published in The Lancet concluded that natural immunity from previous infections is more effective against severe disease and lasts longer than the protection offered by various COVID-19 vaccinations.

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.