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SUNY, CUNY to require COVID-19 vaccinations

Governor Cuomo's office

Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Monday that all State and City University of New York students will have to get a COVID-19 vaccination if they want to enroll in the fall semester.

The governor also announced other incentives to get more New Yorkers vaccinated as the rate of those getting their shots continues to decline.

Cuomo said the SUNY and CUNY boards will vote to enact the requirement at their next meetings.

“So, today, no excuses. SUNY and CUNY boards will require vaccinations for all in-person students coming back to school in the fall,” he said. “You go to a SUNY school, State University of New York, City University of New York, you must have a vaccine to come back in September. If you must have a vaccine, get it now, if you have to get it anyway.”

Cuomo is encouraging private colleges and universities to also require the vaccine. RIT and University of Rochester already announced they'll require COVID-19 vaccinations for students to attend school in the fall.

Just one week ago, the governor said he could not legally mandate that anyone in the state receive a vaccine. That’s because the three vaccines now in use in the United States -- Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson -- have been authorized for emergency use only by the federal Food and Drug Adminstration. Full approval could take several months. Cuomo said he hopes the vaccines are fully authorized by September.

The new requirement comes as the state’s vaccination rate has slowed. Cuomo attributed part of the lag to younger people who are not making it a priority. The governor said early on in the pandemic, health officials emphasized the dangers of the disease for older people, and younger people may have received the message that they were not as much at risk for severe illness or death.

He also said for the first few months of vaccine distribution, only older people were eligible, which sent an “implicit, inverse message.”

“ 'If older people need it first, I’m younger, that means I don’t need it,' ” Cuomo said of that message. “ ‘This is an old people problem, it’s not me. I’m young.’ ”

The governor said downstate public transportation systems are offering incentives for the unvaccinated to get a shot. He said vaccinations will be given at select subway, Long Island Railroad, and Metro North stations. MTA Chair Pat Foye said in exchange for getting vaccinated, riders will get free tickets.

“We will be providing free transportation passes to everyone who gets a shot at one of our locations,” Foye said.

Only about half of MTA workers have been vaccinated, even though they have been eligible since January.

The governor said another vaccine obstacle has emerged -- some summer camps are banning campers and staff who have been vaccinated. Cuomo said he’s proposing a law that says no one can discriminate against a person who has received a vaccine.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau chief for the New York Public News Network, composed of a dozen newsrooms across the state. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.