UNM explains decision behind not mandating COVID-19 vaccines

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M.- The University of New Mexico will not require students to be vaccinated against COVID-19 when classes begin in the fall.

The decision was made after the university drafted the policy to get reaction from the community.

"We really have also leaned into the medical expertise of our academic health center, which we’re really fortunate to have a health sciences center as part of our university, and also paying attention to state and CDC guidance," said Cinnamon Blair, spokesperson for UNM. "The decision was made not to mandate the vaccine, and it is still under emergency use authorization."

The lack of FDA approval was not the only consideration UNM officials made when coming up with the policy.

"There were a lot of things that factored into it, and as I was saying, we’re trying to really create this culture of efficacy around health, and so right now, it’s COVID, but the flu is going to be here in the fall as well, and other health issues may come up, and so we want people to voluntarily and responsibly think about, ‘hey I want to be healthy here at work or at school. I want to protect myself. I want to protect my community,’" Blair said.

Blair said other factors included:

How well the state is doing with vaccinations and keeping case counts down

The worry that people wouldn’t be able to get an exemption

The number of students and staff said they didn’t want a mandatory vaccination policy

In a survey of 1,342 respondents, 59% didn’t want mandatory vaccines and 33% wanted vaccines to be mandatory.

The university also said it would not be able to enforce a mandatory vaccination policy.

"We’re the only university that I know of that was even contemplating this, and there have not been any mandates issued," Blair said. "I believe some states have actually mandated that their public institutions require vaccines for students now."

More than 500 universities across the country have decided to mandate that students get vaccinated.

"I don’t know enough about their processes and what they went through and what their state requirements are, and, you know, how they decided this, whether it was as a system or individual universities — a lot of them are also private — and what’s going on within their states," Blair stated. "So, for me, I don’t know that I can speak to what other universities are doing, and give a fair representation and how that factors into UNM."

The Delta now a concern, and many states are seeing an increase in COVID-19 cases. Blair said she didn’t know if COVID-19 policies will be adjusted as the shape of the pandemic changes.

"We’re definitely monitoring the variant, and from what I’m understanding from national news, the people that are really becoming ill from the variant are unvaccinated," she said.

UNM doesn’t know how many of its students are fully vaccinated, but in a voluntary survey of 10,000 students, more than 90% said they had received the shot.