Interim Guidance for COVID-19 Vaccination

Dear WWU Community,

We know the gradual reopening of our society and our campuses brings with it a new set of anxieties and challenges, in some ways more complex than the sudden shift to remote work and instruction last March. We also know that getting vaccinated is a major step forward in our battle to control the COVID-19 virus, especially now that people 16 years and older nationwide are eligible.

I strongly encourage everyone in the Western community who is able to get vaccinated against COVID-19 to do so.  However, at the current time we are not mandating vaccines.

Western Washington University, with guidance from the Student Health Center, Environmental Health and Safety, our Assistant Attorney General, and the COVID-19 Incident Management Team is currently evaluating whether to require COVID-19 vaccinations for students and/or employees in the future.  We continue to closely monitor emerging research and information about the vaccine rollout, as well as official directives and guidance from the Centers for Disease Control, the Washington State Department of Health, and legal guidance from the Office of the Attorney General of Washington and other national legal organizations.

We realize that having a community that is vaccinated will offer a greater sense of security for students and employees and will allow us to offer a more authentic in-person campus experience in fall.  We will continue to monitor the prevalence of COVID-19 and the presence of variants, and we will be prepared to adjust our plans in response to evolving conditions and public health recommendations.  We are also assessing various options, such as requiring vaccination for students living in residence halls or for individuals attending indoor events where there is a higher potential of virus spread.  We will keep you updated as plans evolve over the next few months.

WWU already requires students and employees to be vaccinated against certain diseases, such as measles, mumps, and rubella. Exemptions are allowed for a documented medical issue or a philosophical or religious objection. If COVID-19 vaccinations are required in the future, similar exemptions will be allowed.

It is important to note that there are complex legal, ethical, and practical dimensions to mandating coronavirus vaccination at Western as compared to the vaccines mentioned above.  First, the mandates for more common vaccines are based on their permanent FDA authorization status, while all the available coronavirus vaccines have been granted emergency authorization use only at the present time.  While that in no way undermines the safety of the vaccines, it also creates a reasonable expectation to be able to decline the vaccine. 

Additionally, public institutions have much less latitude in mandating vaccinations for students and employees than private institutions, which is where virtually all of the mandates you may have heard about are taking place.  And recent student and employee surveys reveal that the vast majority—around 90%—intend to get the vaccine when it is available, which exceeds CDC estimates for herd immunity and achieves essentially the same effect as a mandate.  And finally, there are important equity considerations.  Even as we accelerate access to the vaccine for all Western students and employees, we recognize that there may still be barriers to vaccine access and acceptance which may make a blanket mandate itself inequitable. 

We are working with community providers on opportunities to provide COVID-19 vaccinations on or near campuses for students, faculty and staff as supplies become available. In the meantime, you can find out about the many local providers and pharmacies currently offering vaccination appointments in our community at https://vaccinelocator.doh.wa.gov/ .  Another great resource for locating a particular brand of vaccine is vaccinefinder.org.

I urge students who have not yet initiated the COVID-19 vaccine series to schedule their first vaccination as soon as possible and not to delay initiation until they reach their summer destination.  Also, make a plan for your second dose at the same time, and protect and duplicate your vaccine documentation cards.

Once you have been vaccinated, I encourage you to voluntarily let us know as this information assists us with future return to campus planning. 

Thank you for continuing to keep our community healthy and safe. You’ve done an outstanding job throughout the year, so let’s keep the momentum going during these final months of spring quarter.

With gratitude,

Sabah