NV lawmakers reverse state-wide vaccine requirement for college students

As many universities move to require booster shots, Nevada lawmakers have overturned the state-wide COVID-19 vaccination mandate for college students.

Since the decision was announced, 644 faculty, staff, and students have signed a petition to have the mandate reinstated.

The Nevada Legislative Commission’s 6-6 split decision last week overturned the state’s COVID-19 vaccination mandate for all college students within the state. 

Initially approved in August by the Nevada State Board of Health, the emergency provision was set to last only 120-days, according to The Nevada Independent. When the mandate expired last week and was sent to the Legislative Commission for review, the Commission chose not to make it permanent, with all six Republican lawmakers voting against the mandate and all six Democrats for it.

As Campus Reform reported in August, Nevada’s mandate required all college students state-wide to be vaccinated. In most other states, student vaccine mandates have been adopted by individual universities.

Mateo Portelli, student and Founder of UNLV Young Republicans, expressed concern that this original mandate was “not developed by our elected officials.” 

“When news came out that all NSHE [Nevada System of Higher Education] students were expected to receive a COVID-19 vaccine in order to attend classes, at face-value, you could see the logic behind it,” Portelli told Campus Reform. “Certainly one could understand the spirit behind that expectation in the midst of a global pandemic.”

“However, when I learned that such a requirement was not made by a vote of our State Legislature, or the elected Board of Regents, or even by the actions by our popularly elected governor, but rather was made by an unelected Board of Health, things became a bit more uncomfortable,” Portelli continued.

Portelli says multiple people around him were impacted by the mandate.

“I know students and NSHE employees who are leaving or have left UNLV because of the mandate; I know a good friend of mine whose doctor recommended that he not get the vaccine, and thus wasn’t able to get in-person classes that he wanted,” he said.

[RELATED: Here are the schools mandating the COVID booster]

Soon after the Commission’s vote, schools within Nevada began lifting registration holds on unvaccinated students, allowing all to enroll in classes for the Spring 2022 semester.

While registration holds on student accounts have been lifted at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, students may still have trouble getting into the classes they need due to previously existing policies, which kept select classes online and reserved a set number of seats for unvaccinated students, a university email obtained by Campus Reform stated. 

“Ironically, because of the Board’s mandate, UNLV reserved seats in classes specifically for unvaccinated students, which disallowed another friend of mine who was vaccinated to enroll in a particular class -- because there was an open seat saved for a peer who wasn’t vaccinated,” Portelli said. 

Others have been upset by the Commission’s decision. As of Dec. 28, 644 faculty, staff, and students from colleges and universities across Nevada have signed a petition to reinstate the mandate.

The petition points out that 1,125 universities and colleges nationwide maintain COVID-19 vaccination requirements, with “many requiring boosters and robust testing protocols.”

“We are outraged that six legislators on the Legislative Commission put political considerations ahead of the sound advice of medical experts and ignored the clear statutory authority of the Board of Health over public health regulations, and have put the health and safety of NSHE students, faculty, and staff at increased risk of COVID-19 infection and have made our campuses less safe as workplaces and for in-person instruction,” the petition reads.

[RELATED: UNH mandates regular testing for all—even the vaccinated]

Joshua Zerbel, another UNLV student, is encouraging his peers to push back on the Commission’s decision. He wants the mandate to be reinstated “for the same reason every other vaccination that is required.”

“Students, faculty, and staff should have peace of mind knowing all possible mitigating factors are in place and being enforced to reduce infection from SARS-CoV-2,” he told Campus Reform

Zerbel plans to oppose the decision by “pressuring elected officials into no longer playing politics or trying to reach across the aisle with opponents who are antithetical to the recommendations of the experts.”

While it is unclear how many students got vaccinated due to the mandate, the Las Vegas Review Journal reported on November 1st that 950 medical or religious exemptions were filed out of a total of 31,000 students at UNLV. The Reno Gazette Journal similarly reported on November 26th that 710 exemptions had been approved for University of Reno students.

Portelli believes the Commission’s decision to “abandon mandates made by unelected officials” was the right call.

“It is a shame the vote was so partisan for such a nonpartisan issue, but kudos to the Republicans to support the rights of NSHE students and our hard-working staff and maintain the integrity of our Constitutional government by elected representatives,” he said. 

Campus Reform reached out to UNLV, UNR, the Nevada Legislative Commission, and Nevada Senator Joseph Hardy; this article will be updated accordingly.