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Western’s employee vaccination site is a key element of reopening plans

Proof of vaccination will be required of those with an on-campus presence in the fall

EMPLOYEE-VACCINAION-SITE
A vaccine needle over a blue background. Western Washington University employees now have access to an on-campus vaccination site. // Illustration by Zoë Parker

Following a statewide vaccine eligibility increase to all those over the age of 16, Western Washington University announced plans for a vaccination site for employees and student staff. As appointment slots are booked, Western continues to iron out the logistics of the fall quarter reopening. 

The vaccination site is aimed to serve eligible employees with access limitations or preference to utilize Western’s resources, said Paul Cocke, director of University Communications, in an email. 

“Similar to the Flu Shot Clinic that we hold each year for employees and families, Western is planning to provide a [COVID-19] vaccination clinic to make it as convenient as possible to get a vaccine,” Cocke said. “We will announce when the planning is complete and we have more details. We are encouraging all employees to be vaccinated.”

Western is the second largest employer in Whatcom County, employing nearly 3,000 people according to The Center for Economic and Business Research at Western in a report titled Whatcom County Top Employers: 2019. 

By making vaccines available to this wide range of employees, effects can be felt community-wide. 

“Anything that makes getting the COVID-19 vaccine easier can only benefit the community,” said Melissa Morin, public information officer of the Whatcom County Health Department. “Easy, quick access to the vaccine is one issue that people say will motivate them to get the vaccine. By making the vaccine accessible at work, employers make it even more convenient to get the vaccine, and thereby positively contribute to the health and safety of their communities.”

Western plans to offer vaccines to employees and student staff who want it as long as there is a demand, Cocke said. 

With greater access to vaccines, the university is in the process of planning the mass transition from majority online classes, back to an in-person curriculum, which relies on decreasing COVID-19 cases and rising vaccination numbers, President Sabah Randhawa said in an announcement to the community on April 21. 

Vaccination numbers are promising for the fall transition, said David Hansen, associate medical director of the Student Health Center.

“Recent surveys of students and employees revealed that nearly two-thirds of respondents have either been partially or fully vaccinated against COVID-19,” Hansen said. 

Hansen stressed the importance of Western community members being vaccinated, as well as the university’s partnership with other community providers to help vaccinate Western’s population. These efforts will help ensure a healthy transition to fall 2021. 

Isaac Nicholl, a fourth-year Western student and resident advisor, is eligible to obtain the vaccine through Western as an employee, but ultimately received the vaccine through a different community provider after Western’s vaccination site had to push appointments back in the initial days of offering vaccines. 

“I think it’s a good sign that the university is helping improve access to vaccines, and it makes me feel better about beginning to open campus back up in the fall,” Nicholl said. 

Though Nicholl is hopeful increased access to vaccines will make campus safer in the fall, he still worries about those who are unable to access the vaccine for varying reasons. 

“I worry about whether we will have herd immunity enough to protect those people when we return in the fall,” Nicholl said.

As the pandemic continues, uncertain elements remain a key determinant of university planning processes, which change frequently with new developments. Western announced on May 5 that they will require vaccines for all students, faculty and staff. Both Washington State University and the University of Washington have announced vaccination mandates for fall 2021. 

“Guidelines from the [Centers for Disease Control] and Washington [Department of Health] are rapidly changing as we learn more about the virus and the vaccine,” Hansen said. “I suspect that when we reopen in fall 2021, we will need to continue to follow many of the same mitigation precautions we have over the past year; the most important of which is wearing masks.”

Zoë Parker is a campus news reporter for The Front and a third-year public relations student minoring in international business and the German language. Her work focuses on Western’s budget, administration and Board of Trustees, as well as other campus-related news. You can contact her at zoeparker.thefront@gmail.com.


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