Students walk near the chapel on the Bowdoin College campus in Brunswick in March 2016. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

Bowdoin College is the first college or university in Maine to require that students and staff be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 before attending in the fall.

The move comes as colleges and universities around the country debate the legality of requiring proof of coronavirus vaccines, because the vaccines were only approved under an emergency order.

In a letter to students, President Clayton Rose stated that students will be required to show proof that they have been fully vaccinated by August 13.

Extenuating medical circumstances will be the only exemptions recognized for students.

All employees will be required to be fully vaccinated by August 24, the day that first-year students will arrive on campus. Employees may be exempted from this requirement based on extenuating medical circumstances or religious reasons. Religious exemptions will only apply to employees.

“These vaccinations are essential for returning to normal, allowing us to protect ourselves and one another. I encourage anyone with questions or concerns about the vaccines or the vaccination process to speak with their primary care physician and to review information that is widely available about the safety and efficacy of the vaccines,” Rose wrote.

Rose said that the decision will ensure a sense of community safety, will alleviate anxieties surrounding potential coronavirus outbreaks and will instill a sense of clarity for college officials as they plan for the fall semester.

Bowdoin anticipates welcoming all faculty and staff back to campus to work in-person by September 1. It anticipates seeing a reduced need for coronavirus testing, but will continue to conduct surveillance testing in the fall.

Other Maine colleges and universities have strongly recommended that students and staff get the vaccine to protect themselves and their community, and are providing resources that discuss the benefits of vaccination. They will continue to develop reopening plans throughout the summer.

“The University of Maine System and our Vaccination Planning and Partnership Task Force are constantly monitoring developments with the vaccines currently in use under the FDA’s Emergency Use Authorization approval process,” University of Maine System spokesperson Dan Demerrit said. “We are encouraging but not requiring vaccination.”

Leela Stockley is an alumna of the University of Maine. She was raised in northern Maine, and loves her cat Wesley, her puppy Percy and staying active in the Maine outdoors.