Emory University stone sign with school shield and founding date 1836

ATLANTA (AP) — Five Atlanta-area private colleges will require students to have received COVID-19 vaccinations before class begins next fall.

Emory University, Clark Atlanta University, Morehouse College, the Morehouse School of Medicine and Spelman College made the announcement Monday.

The five join dozens of colleges and universities that have made the decision nationwide, although they are among the first in the South to make the move.

Emory President Gregory Fenves said in a statement that vaccinations will make it healthier for students to be in full classrooms and to take part in athletics and performance events. He said the university will continue to use masks and testing to contain the spread of the virus as well. He said students with medical conditions or “strong personal objections” can apply for an exemption. Fenves said the university won’t now require employees to be vaccinated, but “strongly” recommends it. Emory is Georgia’s largest private university, with 15,000 students. The university and its health system is one of metro Atlanta’s largest employers.

“We will have all students back to campus and vaccinations will create a healthier environment for everyone,” Fenves wrote in a tweet.

The four historically Black institutions that made the announcement are all part of the Atlanta University Center, a consortium of colleges that share resources and allow students to cross-register for classes. They are requiring employees as well as students to be vaccinated.

“Vaccination of our community members is critical to continue meeting our highest priority—maintaining the safety and wellbeing of our constituents,” the leaders of the center wrote in a joint statement.

The Atlanta University Center schools have taught mostly online all year, although some students are currently on the campuses.

The schools said students and employees would have to finish their last or only shot two weeks before the start of class to allow time for immunity to fully develop. The schools said each institution would consider exemption requests. They have more than 8,000 students combined.

Of the nearly 50 universities nationwide so far that have announced they will require students to be vaccinated, only three are public universities, according to a list kept by the Chronicle of Higher Education. Texas prohibited any institution receiving state funds, including private colleges whose students get state financial aid, from requiring vaccinations. Utah has prohibited public colleges from requiring coronavirus vaccinations and Florida has prohibited organizations from requiring proof of immunization.

Colleges routinely require incoming students to prevent proof of other vaccinations. The COVID-19 vaccines are being administered under emergency use authorization by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration.

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