20210515-LOC-COLLEGEVACCINES-3

The local state-run COVID-19 vaccination site is at the Keene State College Athletic Complex on Krif Road. The college has not yet determined whether it will mandate immunization next school year.

Neither Keene State College nor Franklin Pierce University requires students or employees to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, but that could change by the time the next school year starts, campus officials said.

“While Keene State does not currently require the COVID-19 vaccine, we strongly encourage every faculty, staff and student to be vaccinated,” college spokeswoman Kelly Ricaurte said in an email this week. “If permanent approval of the vaccines is granted by the FDA, Keene State, in consultation with its board of trustees and the N.H. Department of Health and Human Services, will make a final decision about whether the vaccine would be required for students.”

Marissa Colcord, a spokeswoman for Franklin Pierce in Rindge, said the university similarly encourages its students and staff to get vaccinated, but has not mandated the shot.

“At this time, we have not announced a decision on this, but plan to soon,” Colcord said in an email this week.

Part of the reason Keene State is not requiring a coronavirus vaccine right now, Ricaurte said, is because all three of the shots currently authorized in the U.S. — produced by Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson — were approved by the Food and Drug Administration under emergency use authorization.

As the COVID-19 vaccine rollout continues, colleges and universities nationwide have grappled with whether they should, or even can, mandate that students get the shot, The Associated Press reported. Since the vaccines are authorized for emergency use, legal scholars told the AP that mandating coronavirus immunizations is a gray area, and could be challenged in court.

If Keene State does end up making a COVID-19 vaccine compulsory, Ricaurte said that decision would likely be made by the entire University System of New Hampshire, which also includes UNH in Durham, Plymouth State University and the Concord-based Granite State College. Lisa Thorne, a spokeswoman for the university system, said this week a decision whether or not to mandate a coronavirus vaccine would come “if permanent approval of the vaccines is granted by the FDA.”

That could happen later this year. The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine became the first to be submitted for full approval to the FDA late last week. Moderna also plans to seek permanent approval in the coming weeks, according to Bloomberg News.

The FDA’s review process for full approval typically takes about six months, Bloomberg reported, but an agency official told that outlet that regulators would attempt to move faster than that for the COVID-19 vaccines.

Pfizer and BioNTech will be submitting data to the FDA on a rolling basis over the next few weeks, including analysis from a Phase 3 clinical trial in which the vaccine’s efficacy and safety were observed up to six months after the second dose, according to a news release from the companies.

In the meantime, both Keene State and Franklin Pierce have begun asking students to voluntarily report proof of vaccination, if they have received a shot. Ricaurte said about 200 Keene State students have reported being vaccinated, while the college plans to collect this data from employees over the summer. Keene State enrolls roughly 3,200 students and has approximately 700 employees.

Colcord said data on the number of Franklin Pierce students and staff who have been vaccinated was not available this week, though she added that anyone who does receive a vaccine will be excluded from the school’s random weekly testing pool for the remainder of this academic year. The university has about 1,200 students and 235 faculty and staff members at its Rindge campus.

And while neither of the Monadnock Region’s residential colleges has decided whether to require a COVID-19 vaccine next year, nearly 350 schools nationwide have announced they will mandate at least some students and/or employees to be immunized against COVID-19 before returning for the fall semester, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education.

In the Granite State, both Dartmouth College in Hanover and Southern N.H. University in Manchester will require vaccinations for next school year. Several colleges in Vermont and Maine, and more than 40 in Massachusetts, will likewise mandate coronavirus vaccines in the fall, the Chronicle of Higher Education reported.

Both Keene State and Franklin Pierce are planning to resume full in-person classes and events on their campuses this fall, they announced previously. Keene State also announced this week that it has extended its deadline for incoming students to commit to the college via deposit from May 1 to June 1.

“Safety guided by science will remain a priority in the fall, and the College continues to carefully monitor the pandemic to make decisions accordingly,” Ricaurte said of Keene State’s plans for next school year. “Ultimately, the goal is to continue to safely operate while expanding on-campus student life and in-person learning experiences.”

Jack Rooney can be reached at 352-1234, extension 1404, or jrooney@keenesentinel.com. Follow him on Twitter @RooneyReports.