For Immediate Release
May 10, 2021
United University Professions President Frederick E. Kowal said he supports Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s decision today to mandate that SUNY and CUNY students get vaccinated for COVID-19 before being allowed to return in person to classes in the fall.
But Kowal, a staunch vaccine supporter and early proponent of mandatory coronavirus testing and safety precautions for on-campus SUNY students and faculty, said that students with religious objections or health problems that prohibit them from getting the vaccine should be exempt from the mandate.
“The governor’s decision to mandate that students be inoculated against COVID-19 before returning to campus in the fall is a sound one and one that UUP, the nation’s largest higher education union, approves of,” said Kowal.
“The safety of our members, our students, our patients at SUNY’s public teaching hospitals and our communities has been paramount for UUP since the start of the pandemic,” he continued. “I believe that everyone who can, including SUNY students and faculty, should get vaccinated. It is an issue of public safety."
Kowal said that SUNY already requires students to receive certain other vaccines before attending classes on campus. State Public Health Law requires students born on or after Jan. 1, 1957, and taking six or more credit hours to show proof of immunity against measles, mumps and rubella, and immunization against meningococcal meningitis.
During his press conference, Cuomo said that coronavirus vaccination percentages for college-aged students is the lowest of any age group in the state. Just 24.7 percent of New Yorkers ages 16 to 25 are vaccinated, Cuomo said. Vaccines for people ages 16 and older began in early April.
Cuomo said that vaccinations would become mandatory once the Food and Drug Administration removes the current emergency authorization and permanently approves their use. Kowal said he agreed with the stipulation.
But Kowal said the announcement to mandate student vaccinations might have been more appropriate coming from SUNY.
“I would have preferred that this decision was made by SUNY, with input from UUP,” he said. “It is an academic decision in many respects, and it is a student quality-of-life decision.”
UUP was an early outspoken advocate for coronavirus safety measures on SUNY campuses. The union negotiated a telecommuting agreement with SUNY—that’s still in place—which allows non-essential workers to work remotely. UUP called for mandatory baseline and recurrent coronavirus testing of students and faculty, the wearing of face masks, and social distancing standards, and worked with SUNY to put the measures in place.
Kowal also said it’s imperative that the state send more operating aid to SUNY to ensure that campuses are safe once classes resume. Direct state aid funding to SUNY was flat in the 2021-2022 state budget, but it restored all proposed cuts to SUNY in the Executive Budget.