University considers lightening COVID restrictions after mass vaccination. Vaccine required for Fall semester.

On March 25, Fr. John Jenkins, CSC announced: “Notre Dame, along with other colleges and universities in the state, will be permitted to set up a vaccination center on campus in mid-April to serve our students, faculty, and staff. Needless to say, we are delighted to receive this positive news and could not be more grateful to Governor Holcomb and to our state and county health officials.”

The recent news about the administration of vaccines provides answers and raises new questions regarding the university’s plan to return to normal, pre-COVID, life. The University of Notre Dame hopes to vaccinate at least 90% of students by the end of this semester and will require vaccination for enrollment in the Fall of 2021.

Despite his optimism, Fr. Jenkins also cautioned: “While the news of vaccine availability is extremely encouraging, it’s critically important that we as a University community continue to follow all of our campus health and safety protocols until we announce otherwise. Having come this far, none of us wants to see a significant spike in cases, especially with campus-wide vaccination in sight. We will work closely with county health officials to determine what is safe for our community in the coming weeks.”

Fr. Jenkins expanded upon these remarks via email on April 5, explaining in detail what campus-wide vaccination would look like. If at least 90% of students receive the first dose of the vaccine by April 15, he communicated, a week later “we plan to take steps such as the following: Allow inter-hall visits in our residence hall common lounges, raise the maximum number at informal gatherings outdoors from 10 to 25, eliminate the requirement to wear masks outdoors on campus for gatherings of 25 or less, [and] restore some outdoor recreational opportunities, such as basketball and volleyball. We will consider instituting these changes one week after the final day of the first round of vaccinations.”

“We will continue to require you to follow all of our other health and safety protocols,” Jenkins added, which include mandatory weekly surveillance testing for undergraduates and professional students, masking indoors (including in the classroom), maintaining physical distancing, and completing the Daily Health Check.”

The same email also stated that once 90% of students have received both doses of the vaccine, the testing requirements will be forgone for those who are vaccinated, and more outdoor activities will be provided for this year’s graduating class in the time leading up to commencement weekend. Other than potentially removing the outdoor masking requirement, all health and safety guidelines listed under will remain the same until further evaluation.

In addition to incentivizing receiving the vaccine this Spring with the 90% rule, the university has elected to require the COVID-19 vaccine for students returning in the Fall semester of 2021. Faculty and staff will not be required to receive the vaccine. “Our goal for the fall semester,” an April 7 email from Fr. Jenkins elaborated, “will be to have as many members of the campus community vaccinated as possible, thereby reducing the risk of infection on campus and in the local community.”

In the same April 7 email, Fr. Jenkins granted that “we will, of course, accommodate documented medical and religious exemptions,” which is consistent with the university policy regarding other vaccines. The process for attaining such exemptions has not been laid out in any university-wide communication, but the Covid Response Unit has directed: “For our students requesting an exemption from the COVID-19 Vaccination Mandate set forth by the University; whether for medical, religious or other reasons – we ask that you send your request for exemption to” The university plans to process exemption requests by early summer.

Students who are denied an exemption but still wish to attend classes in the Fall of 2021 will be required to receive the vaccine on their own and upload documentation of vaccination to University Health Services. For those who are unable to do so, according to Fr. Jenkins, the university “will also offer a way to be vaccinated…prior to arriving for the fall semester.”

One concern surrounding COVID-19 vaccines is rumors concerning the use of cells from aborted infants in their production, manufacturing or testing. According to James Lawler, MD, an infectious disease doctor employed by Nebraska Medicine, the Pfizer vaccine, which Notre Dame is using, does not use “fetal cell lines in vaccine development, confirmation, and production”; however, “Pfizer […] did perform confirmation tests (to ensure the vaccines work) using fetal cell lines.”

In a recent statement regarding COVID-19 vaccines, the USCCB cited Dignitatis Personae, stating that “a serious health danger could justify use of ‘a vaccine which was developed using cell lines of illicit origin, while keeping in mind that everyone has the duty to make known their disagreement and to ask that their healthcare system make other types of vaccines available.’”

Despite concern regarding the vaccine, many have been pleased by the news and hope that normal campus activity will soon return once the great majority of the student body has been vaccinated.

Joe DeReuil is a freshman studying PLS, Constitutional Studies, and Classics. He can usually be found reading or writing for one of his classes and would love to take a break to chat. If he is not on the Sorin porch he can be reached at