LEWISTON – Bates College told students Thursday they must get a booster vaccine for COVID-19, when they become eligible.

“The booster will give us the best chance of preserving the in-person student experience, in the face of a highly transmissible variant,” said Joshua McIntosh, vice president for campus life.

The move comes in the wake of a spate of outbreaks at colleges across the Northeast, that caused some campuses to close and send students home to take finals. The breakthrough cases appear to be tied to the growing spread of the omicron variant of the potentially deadly disease.

McIntosh said that despite “very high vaccination rates” at places such as Middlebury College and Princeton University, they have had to switch to remote learning in the face of large outbreaks of COVID-19, in the final days of their fall semesters. Bates saw cases bump up at semester’s end, but not enough to revise its existing policies for combatting COVID-19.

Bowdoin College and some others have already mandated that students get booster shots as soon as they are eligible, given growing evidence that boosters are crucial to coping with the omicron variant, that is swiftly infecting many people worldwide.

McIntosh said in his message Bates students will need boosters unless they have medical exemptions. Students are already required to be vaccinated.

Like others, students are eligible for a booster shot six months after completing the primary COVID-19 vaccination series from Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna, or two months after completing the single-dose COVID-19 vaccination of Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen.

The immunity by the initial jabs, which offer significant protection against COVID-19, declines over time. The booster, officials said, brings protection levels back up again.

McIntosh said that because Bates offers both housing and dining, mixing students together, “it is particularly important, as the omicron variant continues its spread, that students receive the booster, as soon as they become eligible.”

He said that during the first two weeks in February, students will be required to provide the college with “an updated image of their vaccine card which notes their booster information.” That’s about a month after they return for the second semester.

“If you are eligible for the booster shot and have yet to get it, I urge you to use your time over the winter break to get the booster,” he told students, adding they will also have opportunities to get one after they return to campus.

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