Some 221 students in the University of Maine system who have refused to be vaccinated against COVID-19 or who have agreed to undergo regular viral tests will receive opt-out letters next week and will be removed from all classes in person without refund.
The 221 students who attend in-person classes missed last Friday’s deadline to confirm their immunization status or request an exemption from compulsory immunization, university system spokesman Dan Demeritt said. Every student who lives on a college campus is now in compliance with the policy, he said.
The 221 students represent less than 1% of the 26,111 students in the University of Maine system, although that figure also includes some students who are totally remote and therefore exempt from the vaccine requirement.
The situation at universities in Maine is a prime example of how a vaccination requirement plays out before the Oct. 29 deadline for health workers in Maine to be fully vaccinated against the coronavirus or risk losing their jobs. Healthcare employers, including hospital systems, group homes for people with disabilities and nursing homes, have said they are experiencing staff shortages as the vaccination deadline approaches, although the mandate was not the only factor they cited.
Students in the University of Maine system had until Friday, Oct. 15 to register their immunization status with the system in order to comply with a requirement announced over the summer. Students who had not presented proof of immunization status or requested a religious or medical exemption also became ineligible to enroll in the following semester’s courses.
Noting that the measure was never meant to be punitive, Demeritt said students who contact after being withdrawn and are willing to comply could work with their university to re-enroll.
The requirement has likely forced many students to get vaccinated who might not have otherwise, showing the power of vaccination warrants as authorities seek to end the reluctance to vaccinate.
With more than 10,000 students having submitted confirmation of their vaccination status since the end of July, Demeritt said it was clear the policy had worked to create campus environments that were safer and less likely to see coronavirus cases.
“College-aged students at our universities are the most vaccinated group of young people in the state,” said Demeritt.
Young Mainers are much less likely to be vaccinated than older groups, a trend that is generally reflected nationally. This division is particularly prevalent in some of the more rural sections of the state.
In Franklin County, where the University of Maine at Farmington is located, only 49% of 16-29 year olds have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, according to the Maine Center for Disease Control.
The numbers are just as low (52 percent) for this age group in Washington County, which is home to the University of Maine at Machias. In Aroostook County, home to the Presque Isle and Fort Kent university campuses, 59% of 16 to 29 year olds have received at least one dose of the vaccine.
It is not known how many students withdrew on their own due to the requirement, Demeritt said, but he noted that enrollment was down about 1% overall from the ‘last year. That’s a number he said officials were happy with, especially given the uncertainties created by the pandemic as well as demographic changes seen in Maine.