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News >  Higher education

WSU prohibits personal COVID-19 vaccine exemptions for students after U.S. approves Pfizer vaccine

UPDATED: Mon., Aug. 23, 2021

Ben Schreck, a WSU freshman studying management information systems, left, and his sister Rachel Schreck, a WSU senior studying food sciences study together while adhering to strict COVID-19 guidelines on April 15, 2021, at the Compton Student Union Building on WSU’s campus in Pullman.  (Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review)
Ben Schreck, a WSU freshman studying management information systems, left, and his sister Rachel Schreck, a WSU senior studying food sciences study together while adhering to strict COVID-19 guidelines on April 15, 2021, at the Compton Student Union Building on WSU’s campus in Pullman. (Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review)

Washington State University students can no longer submit for personal or philosophical exemptions to the school’s COVID-19 vaccine policy after the Food and Drug Administration gave full approval Monday to the Pfizer vaccine.

Likewise, students who have requested those exemptions will have a 45-day window to either provide proof of vaccination (or initiation of vaccination) or seek for a new medical or religious exemption.

WSU spokesman Phil Weiler said the clock has not yet started on that window, as university officials are expected to provide more information to students in the coming days. In all other cases, students have until Sept. 10 to provide proof of initiation or completion of a COVID‑19 vaccination or to file an exemption.

As of Monday, 11,865 of WSU Pullman students (62.2%) have complied with the university’s COVID-19 vaccine requirement. Weiler said 11,100 students have submitted proof of vaccination, 200 have asked either for a medical or religious exemption and 565 have sought personal exemptions.

Of those who are compliant, 93.7% are fully vaccinated, Weiler said.

Meanwhile, Weiler reported just 143 WSU Spokane students (9%) have complied with the vaccine requirement, with 139 who have submitted proof of vaccination, four who have sought religious or medical exemptions and zero who have sought a personal exemption. Of those who have complied, 97.2% are vaccinated.

One roadblock at WSU Spokane is technology. While WSU already had the digital infrastructure in place for Pullman students to submit their vaccination information, Weiler said it took several months for the university’s vendor to put the appropriate systems in place for the other campuses, including Spokane.

“This vendor had the product that would work for that, but they had more requests for the product than they could deliver,” he said, “but we got it in place now and also students are attending to these questions a lot more now that we are back in session.”

Joel Schwartzkopf, executive director of Cougar Health Services, said Thursday during a virtual town hall he believes the vaccination policy “is really what gets us back on track for that on-campus in-person experience, which we’ve all been enjoying so far over the last couple weeks.”

WSU leaders announced their intentions to bar personal exemptions for students earlier this month contingent on the FDA approving any one of the Pfizer, Moderna or Johnson & Johnson vaccines.

The measure only applies to students. Staff, faculty and contractors, meanwhile, are subject to a directive announced last week by Gov. Jay Inslee that requires them to get fully vaccinated by Oct. 18 as a condition of their employment.

Inslee’s vaccination requirement, which also applies to K-12 educators, allows only for medical and religious exemptions.

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