Information Resources

What are the vaccine requirements and exemption options for colleges and universities?

How can young adults prepare to make these decisions?
Updated April 19, 2023

Young adults entering into college and university settings are often faced with making their first vaccination decision. Although parents are no longer directly involved with these healthcare decisions, parents can help their sons and daughters find accurate information and resources regarding the following as these young adults decide on which institution to attend:
  1. the risks of the vaccine they are being asked by the college to receive;
  2. the risks of the disease for which they are considering vaccination;
  3. and their rights to informed consent in the vaccine decision-making process;

For reliable facts helpful in evaluating the risks discussed in the first two points above, our referenced web pages on diseases and vaccines are an excellent resource. Students and can also learn about informed consent to vaccination on our informed consent web page.

Higher Education Vaccination Policies & Requirements

College Bound

Many higher education institutions require students to be up-to-date with vaccines required in their state for K-12 students, and may additionally require meningoccal and COVID-19 vaccination for enrollment into a higher education institution. However, many higher education institutions also have vaccine exemption policies in place that students may elect to utilize.

It is also important to understand that while state law determines vaccine requirements and exemptions, not all higher education institutions are subject to these laws. Again, these laws vary state to state and with regard to higher education much also depends on how school is defined within a state's law and its applicability to higher education settings.

NVIC's state web pages contain information and links to each state's higher education vaccine laws to assist in this process.


Vaccine Requirements in Healthcare

There may be additional vaccination requirements for young adults considering entering into a healthcare profession. For example, often hepatitis B, influenza and more recently COVID-19 vaccines are a requirement for health care professionals in many settings, and these requirements often extend to students enrolled in nursing programs and medical school where clinical experience is necessary to met graduation requirements.

While Title VII of the Civil Rights Act provides protection against discrimination in the workplace and can provide for religious accommodation that exempts a healthcare provide from vaccination (see NVIC's FAQ on Adult Vaccine Mandates), similar protections do not appear to be in place for students entering post secondary settings relating to healthcare.

Tips for Gathering Information on Higher Education Vaccine Requirements

Below are tips to aid in gathering vaccine requirement information for individuals pursuing higher education. Much of the information NVIC suggests students gather can be obtained on our state web pages.

  • Research any additional vaccine requirements that may be in place for healthcare related programs and request this information when requesting enrolllment information;
  • Request a written copy of the vaccine requirements and exemption policy when requesting enrollment information;
  • Understand that state laws governing vaccine exemptions may not extend to private higher education settings. In this instance, educational instutions make vaccine requirements and exemptions they deem appropriate. Visit NVIC's state web pages to learn more;
  • Be aware of the difference between a legal requirement and a recommendation. For example, while vaccine policymakers at the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) have included the meningococcal vaccine in their recommendations for first year college students living in dormitories, however, the state os Alaska requires only that college students receive information on the disease, vaccine and their increased risk of contracting meningococcal disease, if living in student housing. In this example the student must either agree to be vaccinated, or sign a waiver verifying that they  received the information and have waived vaccination.
  • Ask if the educational institution or program will accept proof of immunity and provide a vaccine exemption. For example, some states allow vaccine exemption if there is proof of existing antibodies to a disease. Learn more from NVIC's FAQ on Proof of Immunity;
  • Stay up-to-date on state vaccine laws - they can change! Many state vaccine exemption laws are under attack across the U.S. These attacks have also resulted in the introduction of legislation to expand exemptions, or the protection of existing exemptions. NVIC maintains this information on our free Advocacy Portal. Visit the Portal often to stay up-to-date on what is happening in your state and easily support legislation to protect or expand vaccine choice or oppose legislation that would restrict health freedom. NVIC's Advocacy Portal provides consumers with bill analysis, talking points, positions and links to easily contact elected officials with their concerns. 
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