Last week, Washington State University became the first big public school in the state to announce it will require students, faculty and staff to be vaccinated against COVID-19, though with exceptions. The state’s other universities should follow suit to ensure campuses are credibly safe.
At WSU, everyone should get the vaccine by the fall. The school will allow exemptions for medical need, religious belief or personal conviction. That last category means someone needs only to say, “I don’t want to get a shot.” While the policy is not a mandate but more of a strong suggestion, it is still a necessary step in the right direction.
Disappointingly, the University of Washington’s Monday announcement of autumn vaccine requirements for students on all three of its campuses did not go far enough. School faculty and staff should be included in any vaccine requirement, as WSU did. Students are far from the only population at risk.
The state’s other public universities — The Evergreen State College, Eastern Washington University, Western Washington University and Central Washington University — need to step up. Their internal conversations about fall planning should settle quickly and conclusively on vaccine mandates for entire campus communities. Students and their families deserve clarity.
More than 200 million people in America have now received at least one dose of the federally authorized vaccines. Their safety and necessity to stem this epidemic are known quantities. Institutions of higher learning ought to lead by example by embracing science. Yet among all Washington universities, only WSU and tiny for-profit schools DigiPen Institute of Technology and Seattle Film Institute have required everyone on campus to get the jab, according to nationwide tracking by the Chronicle of Higher Education.
Pacific Lutheran University, Whitman College and Seattle University beat UW to the punch in requiring fall student vaccination, though with medical and religious exemptions. Ideally, there should be no room for personal exemptions.
University campuses are places where a virus can spread quickly. Because young people are less likely to manifest symptoms, they can infect those around them without ever knowing.
UW has seen multiple surges in COVID-19 cases since the pandemic began. Classrooms, libraries and cafeterias all put people in close proximity. Fraternities and sororities have been particularly hard hit by outbreaks, in part because they have flouted the rules and held parties despite the risk.
There are complicated issues wrapped up in whether and how to require vaccinations, especially for businesses and public events. Businesses that might bar unvaccinated customers or workers risk losing business and talented workers. Owners will have to weigh the pros and cons.
Colleges and universities face a much easier calculation. All of them, public or private, have the ability and the duty to protect the entire campus community by mandating COVID vaccines in the fall.