WATERVILLE — Thomas College has reversed its stance on coronavirus vaccination requirements for the fall semester, with college President Laurie Lachance announcing Wednesday that all in-person students, faculty and staff must be vaccinated against COVID-19.

“Given that incidence rates have risen dramatically in our region and state and given the deeper understanding that even vaccinated people can get and spread the virus, we simply have no choice but to take the steps to protect the people we care about the most — each individual in our Thomas family,” Lachance said in a news release.

Thomas College President Laurie Lachance fields questions on Oct. 14, 2020. The Waterville school, reversing course on its July 22 announcement, said Wednesday is will now require that all in-person students, faculty and staff be vaccinated against COVID-19. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel file

The decision was made after consulting with the Maine Center for Disease Control & Prevention, MaineGeneral Health and the college’s Board of Trustees, according to Lachance. The college said it would allow limited exemptions and proof of vaccination would be needed by the end of the month.

“If we are to end this pandemic,” Lachance said in the announcement, “we must do everything in our power to be nimble and make choices that protect each other the best that we can with the information at our disposal.”

There are currently 704 full-time undergraduate students enrolled at Thomas College, as well as 142 faculty and staff.

Thomas announced July 22 that students, faculty and staff entering the college in the fall would not be required to be vaccinated against the coronavirus, but those who were unvaccinated would have to wear masks and follow safety protocols, including wearing masks indoors and taking part in a COVID-19 testing program.

The change in Thomas’s stance comes as many other colleges have announced vaccination requirements. Colby College announced earlier in July that all of its students and staff should be fully vaccinated unless they’ve been approved for an exemption for medical or religious reasons.

“Students are asked to be fully vaccinated before arriving on campus in August,” the Colby announcement said. “Likewise, members of the faculty and staff working on campus must be fully vaccinated by Aug. 13, 2021.”

Bowdoin College in the spring was among the first institutions in the state to announce it would require vaccinations.

In a more detailed message to the college community, Lachance said that all students who attend classes on campus must be partially or fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and must submit their vaccination cards to the college health center before arriving on campus, no later than Tuesday, Aug. 31. Students who are partially vaccinated when arriving on campus will be required to follow college mitigation protocols, such as masking indoors and routine testing, until they are deemed fully vaccinated.

All vaccine doses must be administered to students and staff by Sept. 30.

Schools, governments and other institutions are increasingly requiring COVID requirements, with the administration of Gov. Janet Mills now considering a vaccine mandate for all health care workers in Maine.

But such mandates are generating controversy as well.

When Thomas College posted Lachance’s announcement Wednesday on Facebook, it was met with a mixture of positive and negative reactions. One person wrote that they appreciated “Thomas taking the steps needed to keep our campus safe.” Another person wrote, “So my son was supposed to fly in for school, he refuses to get a shot, do we get a refund, and also reimbursement of airfare.”

The college responded to the comment: “we just sent you a private message regarding your question.”

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