By fall, students on all three University of Washington campuses will need to be vaccinated against COVID-19, the state’s largest university announced Monday.

The news follows similar moves this spring by Washington State University and a host of other private colleges, including Seattle University and Pacific Lutheran University. More than 100 colleges nationwide have mandated vaccines before students return in-person for the fall, according to The New York Times.

But the UW, whose researchers were involved in clinical trials for the vaccine, is applying the requirement even to students taking classes entirely online, said university spokesperson Victor Balta. Washington State University, by contrast, exempts online students from this requirements.

“This requirement applies regardless of modality because a student’s status could change or they could be visiting campus for activities or to use facilities, such as the libraries,” Balta wrote in an email. 

UW students will need to show proof of vaccination or claim a “medical, religious or philosophical exemption,” according to a letter sent to students from the university’s president, Ana Mari Cauce. Instructions on how to do that will be released in “early summer,” the letter said. But students won’t face penalties — such as a hold on registering for classes — for failing to do so until after fall quarter. 

“We encourage and expect them to comply with the requirement,” Balta said. 


The university is planning a return to in-person instruction this fall and will restore its student housing to full capacity if allowed under public health guidelines. Almost all of the university’s classes are currently remote, and student housing is at 40% of capacity, Balta said.

In her letter, Cauce said the university is weighing vaccination policies for staff and faculty at the university.

“Decisions about vaccine requirements for faculty, academic personnel and staff will be made after further consultation with faculty, academic personnel and staff leadership, and the state,” she wrote.

Students who aren’t able to get the vaccine because of where they live will be provided with shots on campus.

In March, universities across the state reported a surge in positive cases of the virus. An uptick in cases at the UW’s Seattle campus caused a doubling of the percentage of positive cases within the university’s coronavirus testing program, from 0.6% to 1.3%, even though most students were remote. A spokesperson said at the time that the campus didn’t appear to be the site where the virus was transmitted.

More than 660,000 cases of the virus have been linked to colleges and universities since the start of the pandemic, according to a database tracking college cases of the virus from The New York Times. Around 240,000 of those cases took place after Jan. 1 of this year. The Times also found more than 100 virus-related deaths of university students and staff; the majority of those cases were in 2020. 

Many of those cases took place in sharing living spaces. Last summer, 117 students in fraternities living near the Seattle campus tested positive for the virus.