Washington universities weighing whether to require students get the COVID-19 vaccine

Nursing student Evania Reisen, right, administers a COVID-19 vaccination to fellow Western Connecticut State University student Zak Santoemma, of Madison, during a vaccination clinic at the university. The clinic, held in the Bill Williams Gymnasium on the mid-town campus, was for the university's students. Tuesday, April 20, 2021, in Danbury, Conn.

Nursing student Evania Reisen, right, administers a COVID-19 vaccination to fellow Western Connecticut State University student Zak Santoemma, of Madison, during a vaccination clinic at the university. The clinic, held in the Bill Williams Gymnasium on the mid-town campus, was for the university's students. Tuesday, April 20, 2021, in Danbury, Conn.

H John Voorhees III / Hearst Connecticut Media

Colleges and universities across Washington are still in the process of deciding whether to mandate that students and faculty get the COVID-19 vaccine.

Although some schools in Washington and across the country have already announced plans to mandate the vaccine before students return in the fall, others have stopped short of issuing a formal policy.

Seattle University announced all students would have to get the vaccine before returning to school. The university plans to adopt a mostly in-person model to start off the next academic year, it said on its website.

"A key component to opening safely and returning to in-person consistent with public health guidelines is the requirement that all SU students—undergraduate, graduate and professional—be fully vaccinated for COVID-19 and report it to the university prior to arriving on campus in the fall," the university said.

"The increasing availability of COVID-19 vaccines is reassuring and critical to our plans for a safe opening of campus."

The university encouraged people to get vaccinated as soon as they could. It also noted its policy requiring the vaccine was not without precedent.

"While SU’s COVID vaccine policy is new, the university already requires students be immunized for measles prior to attending and recommends a number of other vaccines as well," it said.

The University of Washington, though, is still weighing whether or not to require the vaccine.

"We are still assessing the question around vaccine requirements, but regardless we intend to provide access to vaccinations on or near campus for students, faculty and staff," a spokesperson said in an email.

On its website, UW said it "expects everyone in the UW community who can get vaccinated against COVID-19 to do so."

Washington State University similarly said it is not yet putting into place any kind of vaccine requirement, but recommended people get the shot.

"Washington State University (WSU) encourages everyone to get vaccinated when they become eligible as the approved vaccines have been shown to be safe and highly effective," the university said.

"WSU does not require the COVID-19 vaccine for faculty, staff, or students; however, the potential for a limited future mandate for some groups is under review. Only through widespread vaccination can the COVID-19 pandemic come to an end. WSU recognizes that there are individual considerations regarding vaccination and encourages anyone with concerns to consult with their health care provider."

Western Washington University said it was waiting for more information from the state.

"Western will not mandate COVID-19 vaccines for any campus group until further information is available and there is clear guidance from the WA State Department of Health," the university said. "In the meantime, it is strongly encouraged that all Western students, staff, and faculty receive the COVID-19 vaccination. They are also encouraged to review available COVID-19 vaccine information in order to exercise an informed decision about whether or not to receive the vaccine."

Over the past few weeks, several colleges across the country have announced plans to mandate the vaccine. Many schools also require other vaccinations before students come to campus.

On April 15, every adult 16 and older became eligible to sign up for the vaccine in Washington. But the state is continuing to struggle with a limited vaccine supply. Officials are asking people to be patient when looking for appointments. Everyone who wants a vaccine will be able to get one, it just might take some time, officials have said. 

So far, the state has given a total of more than 4.6 million vaccine doses, including first and second doses. More than one-quarter of people in the state have been fully vaccinated, and more than 37% have had at least one dose of the vaccine. 

Health officials have emphasized vaccines are a key tool in stopping the spread of the pandemic and are encouraging everyone to get the vaccine as soon as they can to protect themselves and the community. 

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