This article was updated on Nov. 18 to include new information about vaccine exemptions that was provided during a public Q&A about winter quarter hosted by the university administration.
Western Washington University students who didn’t comply with the school’s COVID-19 vaccine requirement were still able to register for fall classes, but this winter, the school is cracking down.
Non-compliant students had registration holds placed on their accounts on Nov. 5, preventing them from registering for winter quarter classes.
In order to comply with Western’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate, students must either have received a COVID-19 vaccine or have an approved exemption. Students can get exemptions for religious reasons or medical reasons. Western previously offered an exemption for personal reasons, but decided to remove that exemption category in August. Students who have received an approved exemption are required to get weekly COVID-19 tests at the Student Health Center testing facility.
Adam Lorio, the COVID-19 support manager on Western’s COVID-19 Response Team, said registration holds were not put in place for fall quarter because the COVID-19 vaccine status reporting system was put in place after registration for fall quarter had begun. They wanted to provide students adequate time to reach compliance status before they had holds placed on their accounts.
Students who were not in compliance with the vaccine requirement during fall quarter were marked as such in university records. They have received regular emails notifying them that they would need to meet the requirement before registering for winter quarter, or they would have a registration hold placed on their account.
Western is not the only school putting registration holds on students who aren’t in compliance with vaccine mandates. According to The Daily, the University of Washington also recently placed registration holds on 4,000 students who aren’t in compliance, which is 9% of their school population.
As of Nov. 18, 95.2% of Western students were fully vaccinated. That leaves 4.8% — or about 700 students — who are not fully vaccinated. There are 15,053 students enrolled in classes this fall — both in-person and online only.
During a Nov. 18 Q&A on winter quarter plans, Sislena Ledbetter, Western's director of counseling, health and wellness, said 397 students have vaccine exemptions this year.
- 81% of the student exemptions are for religious reasons.
- 19% of the student exemptions are for medical reasons.
- 2.8% of Western employees have a vaccine exemption.
During a Q&A with President Sabah Randhawa on Nov. 3 in the Viking Union, a student who identified themselves as a second-year studying geology at Western said she is unvaccinated and expressed concern for how that will affect her education going forward.
“I’m quite concerned that they’re going to restrict my learning, especially in a geology major where I have to go in the field and then touch and see and look at the rocks,” the student said.
The student also asked Randhawa to give justification for the vaccine mandate.
“Why is it that I have to be basically worried about the quality of my education and being barred from these classes where everybody else would be vaccinated?” the student asked.
Randhawa handed the microphone to Melynda Huskey, the vice president for enrollment and student services, to answer the question.
“We have to depend very much on the input of our public health officials as we think about these things, and that’s really where we have tried to navigate from the beginning of the pandemic,” Huskey said.
Randhawa then provided his own response.
“At the end of the day, we need to look at what the state is doing and what their mandates are, what the health authorities are telling us and how we protect the health of the community we’re trying to serve,” he said.
Lorio said students who do not wish to be in compliance with Western’s vaccine requirements must submit a statement every quarter saying they will have no in-person presence at Western or at events affiliated with the school in order to be enrolled in online classes.
Lorio also said it’s these kinds of steps taken by Western that have allowed the school to be recognized as the safest place in Whatcom County, which Lorio said it was referred to as at a recent meeting with the Whatcom County Health Department.
“It’s not always easy,” Lorio said. “We all have our struggles — everybody has differences of opinion, but when it comes down to it, Western pulls together to keep this community safe.”
Correction Nov. 19, 9:36 a.m: The origional headline of this article was "Western is blocking students who haven't submitted proof of vaccination from registering for winter classes". It was updated on Nov. 19 to better clarify that students who recieved waivers for exemptions are still allowed to register.
Katie McNabb (she/her) is a senior reporter for The Front this quarter. She’s a fourth-year double-majoring in English and journalism. Her past reporting has focused on science and the environment. In her free time, she enjoys reading, exploring Bellingham with friends and experimenting with plant-based cooking.
You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org