HCC, other colleges to drop vax requirement after spring semester


Staff Writer

Published: 03-07-2023 5:00 PM

GREENFIELD/HOLYOKE — A year and half after the mandate first went into place, all Massachusetts community colleges, including those in Holyoke and Greenfield, will no longer require COVID-19 vaccines for enrollment.

The mandate, which went into effect in January 2022, will end with the conclusion of the spring semester, coinciding with the start of commencement season for all community colleges.

The decision, which comes from the Massachusetts Association of Community Colleges, a group that represents all 15 community colleges in the state, takes into consideration the “changing public health landscape around COVID-19.” Certain groups of students and employees — such as those in health care — may continue to have COVID vaccination requirements as a condition of their clinical or external placements, according to the association.

GCC President Michelle Schutt, who is a member of the Massachusetts Association of Community Colleges, said the decision was informed by several factors, including the federal government’s decision to end the national and public health emergencies in May, continuously improving treatment options for patients with COVID, as well as vaccination rates at community colleges exceeding 90%.

“We’re there,” she said of the college’s vaccination rate. “The requirement did not require boosters, just those initial vaccinations. Where people are as it relates to their boosters, I don’t know, because it wasn’t required … But on the first vaccines, we’re talking over 90% because the vast majority of our faculty and staff are compliant and not asking for accommodations.”

The decision also factored in the reality that campuses are seeing fewer cases than in previous years, she added.

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“That being said, we’re going to continuing monitoring the heath guidance and health data,” Schutt said. “Should that spike, we might have to make an interim, temporary adjustment at some point. I’m hopeful that’s not where we’re headed.”

Schutt, who arrived to Greenfield in July 2022, said that in conversations across the state, the vaccine mandate posed yet another enrollment barrier to those seeking higher education.

“We’re all hopeful that this will enhance our enrollment moving forward,” she said.

Though the vaccine requirement will be removed, Schutt noted that the college will continue to urge everyone to receive the COVID vaccine and boosters.

HCC officials echoed that thought, saying they will continue sanitation protocols even though the mandate is ending.

“Although vaccines will not be required following the conclusion of spring semester finals, we continue to focus on sanitation protocols and to encourage vaccination, social distancing, masking, and testing, when necessary,” HCC said in a statement.

HCC said it was one of an “early responder and implementer” of safety protocols when COVID emerged in 2020, and that the college will continue to monitor the situation and adjust to changing conditions.

Boston University intern Sydney Ko contributed to this report.