By Jesse Sarles

DURANGO, Colo. (CBS4) – Administrators at Fort Lewis College in Durango say the COVID-19 vaccination will be a requirement for students attending classes on campus this fall. The announcement was made on Friday in the form of a letter from President Tom Stritikus to students and staff.

“A broadly vaccinated student body provides our best hope for returning to the hands-on, inclusive, experiential, and personalized learning environment that we have all come to love. As such, all students enrolling at FLC for the Fall 2021 semester will be required to get a COVID-19 vaccine,” Stritikus wrote.

The college is now the first in Colorado to mandate that students get the shot, Colorado Public Radio reported. Late last month, Rutgers University was the first in the nation to require students to get COVID-19 vaccinations before the start of the fall term.

Stritikus said Fort Lewis College is planning to host a COVID vaccination clinic on campus the week before the start of school for students who haven’t gotten the vaccine before then.

CBS4 Medical Editor Dr. Dave Hnida spoke about the issue earlier this week and pointed out that universities and colleges already routinely require students to have MMR (measles, mumps & rubella) and meningitis vaccinations. When it comes to coronavirus, Hnida pointed out the vaccine would offer protection to more than just the students.

“College students don’t have this superhuman immunity against COVID,” he explained, “even though the tendency is for that age group to have less severe disease. But there is no question we still see severe disease in that age group.”

“Even if the illness is mild or asymptotic, young people are more likely to become long haulers, so there is personal concern there.”

“Then you take a look at the fact if college students are not vaccinated, there is a risk of them bringing COVID out into the community off campus as well as bringing it home to their families.”

The complete letter from Fort Lewis College is as follows:

Dear FLC Community:

During the last year, our community has shown time and time again that we can do the right thing: care for each other and make sacrifices to protect in-person learning. Despite all the work we have done to keep things as normal as possible, it is not lost on me that all of this has come with a cost to our community. We all miss the way we used to interact: watching a performance in Roshong, group work in classrooms, cheering for our sports teams, and just hanging out in the Student Union.

That’s why I’m so grateful for the recent increase in vaccine availability and eligibility for our students. We are especially grateful to our Indigenous neighbors and partners—the Southern Ute Indian Tribe and the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe—for providing vaccinations for our Indigenous students, faculty, and staff, and for availing their mass vaccinations to non-Native people as well. A broadly vaccinated student body provides our best hope for returning to the hands-on, inclusive, experiential, and personalized learning environment that we have all come to love. As such, all students enrolling at FLC for the Fall 2021 semester will be required to get a COVID-19 vaccine.

Let me address the “Why?” COVID-19 has made it very clear just how impactful and necessary it is for us to have an educational experience in person, and vaccines are our way of ensuring that we can be together for a normal fall semester. Many of our students are already vaccinated. We are an institution with a large population of Native students and other students of color, and we know COVID had a disproportionate impact on those communities—requiring the vaccine protects not only our campus, but the communities our students come from. As you know, we already require students to have their MMR vaccines and encourage vaccination against meningitis as well, and the COVID-19 vaccine requirement is in alignment with those directives. By keeping everyone healthy, we can keep everyone safe as we return to some semblance of normalcy.

I have every reason to believe that students will be able to access one of the three approved COVID-19 vaccines in time for the fall term. As of April 2, anyone over the age of 16 in Colorado is eligible to receive the Pfizer vaccine, and anyone over the age of 18 is eligible to receive the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines. Other states are opening eligibility as well. To meet the vaccine requirement and to have full protection in time for Fall 2021, we are recommending students get vaccinated as soon as they have the opportunity. For students who do not have access to the vaccines in their home communities, we are planning to host a COVID-19 vaccination clinic on campus the week prior to the start of the Fall 2021 term. More information on that to come.

This announcement may raise questions for you; my staff and I will work to respond to all of them. We have posted helpful information on our website.

Last summer, when we made the decision to reopen campus, we weren’t exactly sure what distanced learning in masks would look and feel like, but we knew it was the right call to make at the time. As of today, requiring vaccinations for students is our next step in protecting campus, increasing in-person engagement, and improving mental health. It’s time to reengage in all that we enjoy and expect in our campus experience. And while COVID has taught us that there are no guarantees, we believe this is our best path for a return to normalcy.

COVID is still very much with us and we need to remain diligent in our mitigation protocols even as we approach mass vaccine uptake in our community. Remember that masks and distancing are still necessary to keep each other safe.

Best, Tom

Tom Stritikus
President
Fort Lewis College

Jesse Sarles