Designing COVID-19 vaccine mandates in colleges and universities: A roadmap to the 10 key questions

Susan M. Wolf, James G. Hodge

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


COVID-19 transmission among students, faculty, and staff at US institutions of higher education (IHEs) is a pressing concern, especially with the dominance of the highly contagious Delta variant and emergence of the Omicron variant. From the start of the pandemic to May 26, 2021, >700,000 cases were linked to US colleges and universities. To protect their populations and surrounding communities, IHE administrators are increasingly considering COVID-19 vaccine requirements. Roughly one-quarter of the nearly 4,000 college and university campuses across the US have announced COVID-19 vaccine mandates for students or employees. However, deciding to require vaccination is only the first of multiple decisions, as IHEs face complex issues of how to design and refine their mandates, including whether to require boosters. Mandates vary significantly in stringency, implementation, impact on members of the college or university community, and net benefit to the institution. This essay examines 10 key questions that an IHE must face in designing or refining a COVID-19 vaccination mandate. Showing that these 10 questions were carefully considered may be crucial if the institution's mandate is challenged. Ultimately, how an IHE designs its mandate may make the difference between meaningful risk mitigation that advances institutional goals and benefits students, faculty, and staff versus a public health failure that erodes trust, raises equity concerns, threatens to undermine preexisting vaccination requirements, and divides the campus.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberlsab035
JournalJournal of Law and the Biosciences
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Susan M. Wolf, JD, is Regents Professor; McKnight Presidential Professor of Law, Medicine & Public Policy; Faegre Baker Daniels Professor of Law; and Professor of Medicine at the University of Minnesota. She chairs the University’s Consortium on Law and Values in Health, Environment & the Life Sciences. Wolf’s research has been supported by the National Institutes of Health, National Science Foundation, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and others. She is an elected member of the National Academy of Medicine, fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, member of the American Law Institute, and fellow of The Hastings Center. She co-leads the Minnesota COVID Ethics Collaborative.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 The Author(s). Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of Duke University School of Law, Harvard Law School, Oxford University Press, and Stanford Law School. All rights reserved.


  • COVID-19
  • colleges and universitie1
  • ethics
  • higher education
  • public health
  • vaccine mandate

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article
  • Review


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