Nursing student Kristen Vellieux receives the COVID-19 vaccine from fellow student Ning Lou. Credit: Courtesy of University of Maine

Maine’s public universities will encourage students and employees to get vaccinated against COVID-19 as vaccines start to become more widely available. But they won’t make it a requirement.

The decision by the University of Maine System — with about 30,000 students and more than 5,000 employees — represents the approach of one large Maine entity toward COVID-19 vaccinations as employers across the country decide whether to require that their employees be vaccinated.

The university system is not requiring the vaccinations at this point because both available vaccines, from Moderna and Pfizer, have so far only received federal Food and Drug Administration approval for emergency use, Chancellor Dannel Malloy said.

“We’re all in on encouraging everybody. We just don’t believe that we should require it until such time as regular review would give rise to a regular approval of the vaccine,” he said. “But when my number comes up, I’ll be the first person to get it.”

The system plans to wait for that full approval before deciding whether to require the vaccination on its campuses, said spokesperson Dan Demeritt.

Some nursing students who have volunteered to join the statewide effort to administer vaccines have already been inoculated themselves. Several older faculty members are also eligible to start receiving vaccinations as the state rolls doses out to people 70 and older.

Without the university system mandating it, students and staff have shown interest in receiving the vaccine when they are eligible, UMaine President Joan Ferrini-Mundy said.

Through the spring semester, the university system plans to discuss the importance of vaccination with the campus community, Ferrini-Mundy said.

“Even if it’s not required, this will be kind of rolled out and discussed on our campuses in the same way that we’ve been working on testing,” she said. “That doesn’t guarantee that we will be able to get, you know, 100 percent vaccination. But if we could offer it tomorrow, from what we’re hearing, there’s great interest and great commitment to the idea of participating.”

University of Maine System campuses opened for the spring semester earlier this week. The universities will require that everyone who lives, works or attends classes on campus be tested for the virus weekly.

That mass testing effort will help the university system prepare for mass vaccinations later this year, Malloy said.

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