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More colleges are requiring students to get COVID-19 vaccines. Here’s where local schools stand

Vaccination and recovery stations are in operation at the CHAS Health vaccination clinic in Gonzaga’s Martin Centre in February.  (COLIN MULVANY/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

A number of colleges and universities throughout the U.S., including Cornell and Duke universities, have announced they will require students to get the COVID-19 vaccine to attend during the upcoming fall semester.

Meanwhile, institutions across the Eastern Washington area are either undecided on a requirement or forgoing a mandatory vaccine policy.

Even though coronavirus vaccines only have emergency approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, there is no legal reason colleges could not require COVID-19 vaccinations, said Harvard Law professor Glenn Cohen, though there are also no federal guidelines explicitly permitting such mandates.

While none has committed to a COVID-19 vaccination mandate, all local colleges and universities are encouraging their communities to get vaccinated.

The University of Idaho and North Idaho College will not require the vaccine for fall 2021, representatives for both institutions said Wednesday.

“We’re focused right now on educating and encouraging folks, both our students and our faculty, to be vaccinated,” North Idaho College spokesperson Laura Rumpler said.

Spokane Community College and Spokane Falls Community College also “have no plans” at this time to require the vaccine for the fall, spokeswoman Carolyn Casey said.

“We are pleased to have the CHAS vaccination and drive-through testing site on our SCC campus and we plan to provide additional vaccine educational opportunities for our students and employees,” she said in a statement.

As of Friday, Washington State University, Gonzaga University, Eastern Washington University and Whitworth University were each undecided on a course of action for fall 2021, representatives told The Spokesman-Review.

WSU spokesman Phil Weiler said a decision will be announced before the end of the semester.

“While there are a number of legal and logistical considerations that need to be resolved, we believe they can all be appropriately addressed,” Weiler said. “If WSU were to establish a vaccination requirement, it would most certainly include focused exemptions for issues like existing medical conditions, religious objections and personal objections.”

EWU spokesman Dave Meany said he expects the university’s discussion on the matter to continue into the spring.

While Whitworth has yet to make a decision, the university hosted two vaccination clinics earlier this month as the school continues to promote vaccinations, spokeswoman Trisha Coder said.

Similarly, Gonzaga hosted a vaccination clinic for students last Monday, according to a letter to the campus community from President Thayne McCulloh.

“It is our position currently that we will continue to drive vaccination efforts for our students and employees,” Charlita Shelton, Gonzaga’s COVID-19 compliance officer and McCulloh’s chief of staff, said in a statement. “The question as to whether Gonzaga will require all students to receive a vaccine before their return this fall will be made in the coming weeks, in conjunction with key partners such as the Spokane Regional Health District.”

In McCulloh’s letter, obtained by The Spokesman-Review, the president said the university made arrangements with the Spokane Regional Health District to offer 1,500 doses of the Pfizer vaccine exclusively to students. But while Whitworth’s residence halls aren’t scheduled to close until near the end of May, Gonzaga’s spring semester ends May 7.

The Pfizer vaccine is administered in two doses three weeks apart, meaning the earliest students could get the second dose is May 10.

“We want to note that numerous students are registered to receive second doses at the on-campus clinic operated by Providence on May 13,” Shelton said. “Additionally, Student Affairs is working directly with students to locate centers in their hometowns to ensure students can receive second doses of the Pfizer vaccine in a timely way.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.