Come fall quarter, operations at Western Washington University are anticipated to be back in full swing. At the forefront of the university’s plan for reopening: Western’s COVID-19 vaccination requirement for students, faculty and staff, announced May 5.
Paul Cocke, director of University Communications at Western, says the university’s goal is to nourish and maintain good health within the campus community.
“I think that the whole idea of mandating [the vaccines] is to ensure the safety of our campus,” Cocke said. “The more people on campus vaccinated, the safer we will be from the virus. It is also important to note that the vaccines also are being shown to be very effective against variants of COVID-19, including the delta variant.”
Bob Lutz, local health officer from the Washington State Board of Health, said it is smart for universities to require all students and personnel to receive a vaccine.
“If we look at our state data, we see the typical college-aged demographic is one that has both historically been drivers of our surges,” Lutz said. “Colleges across the county have had outbreaks that have affected not only the campuses themselves but the surrounding communities. Vaccines are our way forward to resuming a more normal life and allow students to enjoy themselves during their college years.”
Some students believe that Western’s vaccine requirement is beneficial and the most efficient way to return to campus fall quarter. Timothy Logan Flanagan, a second-year student at Western, said making sure as many students, faculty and staff as possible are vaccinated, is the correct path of action.
“I feel that requiring all students to have the COVID-19 vaccine is the best option for going back to normal,” Flanagan said. He added that with high-risk individuals, it is important to make sure vaccinations are widespread in order to keep those people safe.
Ryan Martin, a fourth-year Western student, also feels strongly that requiring vaccinations is necessary in order to keep the community safe. Martin believes that Western requiring vaccinations, as well as still maintaining the mask mandate in buildings, are steps in the right direction.
However, Martin said getting the vaccine should go beyond one’s personal preferences and ideals.
“Your opinions [on the vaccine] don't matter if it threatens someone's safety or the public's safety at large,” Martin said.
Martin said he knows religious reasons, medical exemptions and more, may be the reason some choose not to receive the vaccine, but he still believes that public safety should remain the number one priority.
Some students also believe the university’s policy has its faults and won’t create the safest environment possible for all students in the long run.
Rosie Roman is one of those students.
Roman said they believe requiring vaccination for all students and staff at Western is the fastest path towards being able to gather safely, herd immunity and ultimately saving lives in Bellingham and the Western community. Although, they also find that there are reasonable arguments for why students may not want to get vaccinated.
Roman explained how they feel concerned when it comes to groups that may not want to or can’t receive a vaccine.
They said that they worry Black students may be uncomfortable with such a rapidly-made vaccine, as Black Americans have a history of being mistreated by the American medical system. They also are also concerned with how students, particularly students with a disability, may be worried about negative side effects associated with the vaccine, including some of the most recent side effects posted on the Centers for Disease Control website.
Roman believes Western should adapt to such concerns by making more classes accessible to at-risk students so they feel safest and are fully able to learn.
In terms of concerns over availability of online classes in the fall, Cocke said there are many options.
“We cannot guarantee remote access to all courses but will attempt to find alternatives for students who need remote access,” Cocke said.
Western recently posted the COVID-19 Vaccine Waiver Request Form on the student health center website. In the form, it details how students can request to be exempt from taking the COVID-19 vaccine for medical, personal or religious reasons. The form also says students who do not receive the vaccine will be required to be tested once a week, as well as follow all quarantine/isolation procedures if need be.
Carter Carter, an immunocompromised senior at Western, said meaningful steps are being taken to keep the community safe, but more accommodations and understanding should be directed towards the immunocompromised population at Western.
“I understand that there is a big push for everyone to get back to normal as quickly as possible, but we end up leaving the people who won't be safe, even if we have the vaccine, in the dust,” Carter said. “I wish that the university would not grant personal waivers for the vaccine. Many people aren't fully protected by the vaccine even if they have it and it is enough to make immunocompromised students pause on returning to the classroom without the waivers being permitted.”
Carter also said as restrictions lift and campus life returns back to normal, immunocompromised students are forced to rely on only themselves to stay safe, as many may have to return to in-person learning or other practices that do not provide a safe enough space for their return.
According to the University of Michigan Health website, COVID-19 vaccines may not give as much protection to immunocompromised recipients compared to the general population receiving the shot.
“The limited data that we have creates significant concerns that vaccines against COVID-19 may not be as effective in immunosuppressed patients,” said David Kaul, director of the Transplant Infectious Disease Service at Michigan Medicine.
However, according to the University of Michigan Health website, it is still advised that immunocompromised individuals receive the vaccine.
Kathy Bay, clinical and quality assurance section manager in the office of immunizations and child profile at the Washington State Department of Health, said via email if students or individuals are nervous to receive the vaccine, they can be reassured knowing it is safe, and there are resources to utilize if they wish.
“COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective,” Bay said. “Getting vaccinated not only protects you, but it may also protect people around you. If people have questions about the vaccine, we encourage them to reach out to their healthcare provider or visit our FAQ page. To find vaccines near you, you can use the state’s Vaccine Locator website, text your zip code to GETVAX (438829) to receive addresses of nearby vaccination sites, or call 833-VAX-HELP.”
Nina Claflin is a third-year student at WWU studying public relations. She is writing for campus beat, specifically in student news & issues. She enjoys biking, fitness, hiking and reading novels in her spare time. She is also a twin (even though they look NOTHING alike!) She is excited to be on the staff for The Front this summer, and she can’t wait to come into touch with the journalism and campus community! If you wish to contact her, her email is Nina.TheFront@gmail.com.