(ABC4) – Under a law signed in mid-March, Utah universities and colleges cannot require that students receive the COVID-19 vaccine in order to attend in-person classes unless they allow students to opt-out of the vaccine for medical or personal reasons.

Specifically, the law, previously known as House Bill 233, “prohibits the Utah Board of Higher Education and higher education institutions from requiring proof of vaccination” as a condition of being enrolled at or attending the institution unless the institution allows for two exemptions.

The exemptions include a medical exemption for students who can’t receive a vaccine for medical reasons or a personal exemption if the student gives the institution a statement that they have a personal or religious belief that goes against receiving the vaccine.

In addition, the law states that educational institutions can’t deny students the option of in-person learning if they are exempt from receiving the vaccine for either medical, personal, or religious beliefs.

The law does not apply to students who are studying in a medical setting at a higher education institution.

What does this new law mean for universities and colleges throughout the state?

The Utah System of Higher Education issued the following statement:

“Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, the health and wellness of students has been the Utah Board of Higher Education’s top priority. We’ve been in constant communication with the Legislature throughout the pandemic, and with the passing of H.B. 233, our colleges and universities can move forward on their campuses into future semesters with that to inform their plans. The Utah Board of Higher Education did not take an official position on this bill. Under the bill, if a college or university wants to require vaccines, they must allow for the exemptions included within the bill; if they don’t want to allow for those exemptions, they cannot require vaccines. We continue to strongly encourage students, faculty and staff to be vaccinated.”

For Utah State University, the new law doesn’t make much of a difference, according to a statement from the school.

“The new law in Utah does not affect our immunization practices, because Utah State University does not require either employees or students to receive vaccinations. 

We do strongly recommend that everyone in our community get the COVID-19 vaccine, as well as other important vaccines like the MMR, Polio, DTaP, and varicella. Students are encouraged to enter immunization records in their university health center file when they go through university orientation.

Today, USU is hosting its first vaccine clinic on campus. Approximately 1,050 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine will be administered before noon. This clinic is open to students and employees, and the spots filled up within three hours of advertising the clinic. We are really encouraged by that. We’ve noticed the vast majority of people receiving the vaccine today are students, which is great as this particular vaccine provides a great opportunity for these students to be fully vaccinated before they leave our campus for the summer break.

We also anticipate receiving additional vaccine allocations from our local health department and scheduling more clinics before the end of the semester.”

Chris Nelson, Communications Director, for the University of Utah, cited House Bill 308, which prohibits a government entity from requiring individuals to receive a COVID-19 vaccine. The law was also signed in mid-March.

“Utah House Bill 308 doesn’t really change anything for the University of Utah. We weren’t planning to require students to receive the COVID-19 vaccine as a condition of enrollment. That said, we are highly encouraging everyone in our campus community (faculty, students, staff) to receive the vaccine as soon as possible. We just published information about why we think vaccinations are so important and could impact our decision on requiring face coverings moving forward.

Weber State University stated the following:

“Weber State University will follow the guidelines of H.B. 233. In this past year, we have had discussions about all possible measures that would help keep our campus safer and healthier and allow us to continue our educational mission. Face coverings, vaccines, social distancing, in-person and virtual classes and events were all part of the discussion.”

See the full text of H.B. 233 below.