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Western housing assesses difficulties and benefits of mandating COVID-19 vaccine

As fall quarter draws closer, the housing department and health officials explain what the mandate means for students in the dorms next year.

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Buchanan Towers East located on the south side of campus on March 11, 2021. Western Washington University residents are able to live in the dorms with a roommate starting in fall 2021. // Photo by Adriannah Roman

As fall quarter inches closer, the announcement of a mandatory COVID-19 vaccination for Western Washington University has the housing department and health officials buzzing. 

Western made the mandatory vaccine announcement on Wednesday, May 5. Six days earlier, university President Sabah Randhawa said Western was waiting for “official directives and guidance from the governor’s office and the Washington State Department of Health.”  

Randhawa’s message came after both the University of Washington and Washington State University announced that the COVID-19 vaccine will be mandatory for students returning to campus in the fall.  

With the mandate in place, associate director of Residence Life Vicki Vanderwerf said there may be challenges for Western students planning to live in the dorms next fall. 

“One of the challenges would be accessibility,” Vanderwerf said. “We’re looking at giving students, especially new students, great access to vaccines through the Student Health Center.” 

Vanderwerf said the housing department has suggested bringing pop-up vaccination tents to move-in day. 

“We’re talking about it now just so we’re prepared when move-in happens but [we] know that we need to be flexible enough [that] when medical advice changes that we are able to change our systems as well,” Vanderwerf said. 

A definitive answer regarding safety policies and practices in the dorms for fall quarter will not come until the late summer months, Vanderwerf said. 

Kaitlin Losansky, a third-year at Western, has been a resident adviser for two years. She considers mandatory vaccination necessary despite the challenges it might present. 

“Personally, I think this was the most responsible choice,” Losansky said. “To my knowledge, it has the best impact, healthwise, and it would allow residents to do the things that they're begging for, which is hanging out in large groups, hosting large events.”

Losansky said she believes a mandatory vaccine will alleviate the feeling of loneliness and depression that a lot of her residents are facing. 

The return of Western students living with roommates also means a return to dull issues that will matter again, such as resolving small conflicts with those living in close quarters. Losansky said it will help give residents company and will help build conflict skills.

“I do want to say having roommate conflict is not a bad thing, and it actually can help develop conflict skills,” Losansky said. “Some of the best remaining relationships that I saw develop happened because of a really respectful roommate mediation conversation.”

Losansky said the mandate comes with challenges.

“It gets sticky,” she said. “A lot of people can't have the vaccines or choose not to for various reasons. Sometimes they’re medical, sometimes they’re religious, sometimes it's just personal belief and I think that all of those should be respected.”

And while these are considerations to make for the mandate, Whatcom County health officials recommend students and faculty receive their vaccinations before fall quarter.  

“Public health policies work,” said Whatcom County Public Health Department Public Information Officer Melissa Morin via email. “Policies like seat belt laws or no-smoking policies are proven to have benefits for the community’s health; they improve well-being and save lives. And many institutions, like hospitals, universities and police departments, already make certain vaccines mandatory.”

According to Morin, students can contribute to herd immunity sooner by getting vaccinated themselves as soon as possible. Herd immunity is when a large enough percentage of a population is immune to or vaccinated against an illness and create a barrier to the spread of a disease

“Don't wait till fall,” Morin said. “The sooner everyone gets vaccinated, the sooner we can all resume doing those things we've been missing. So why wait?” 

Priority housing applications ended on May 1 but students can still apply here. To find information on vaccine availability and providers in Washington visit the vaccine locator webpage.

Nicola Wasmuth is a second-year at Western and enjoys writing about social justice and the arts. When she is not reporting, Nicola enjoys making photos and plans to become a photojournalist through the Visual Journalism track at Western. You can reach her at wasmutn@wwu.edu.


Nicola Wasmuth

Nicola Wasmuth is a second-year at Western and enjoys writing about social justice and the arts. When she is not reporting, Nicola enjoys making photos and plans to become a photojournalist through the Visual Journalism track at Western. You can reach her at wasmutn@wwu.edu. 


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