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Changing course, Eastern Washington University to require students, staff to get COVID-19 vaccines

UPDATED: Thu., June 3, 2021

David May, Eastern Washington University's interim president poses for a photo on Oct. 7, 2020, outside Showalter Hall on EWU's campus in Cheney. On Thursday, he announced that EWU would require students to get the COVID-19 vaccine.  (Tyler Tjomsland/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
David May, Eastern Washington University's interim president poses for a photo on Oct. 7, 2020, outside Showalter Hall on EWU's campus in Cheney. On Thursday, he announced that EWU would require students to get the COVID-19 vaccine. (Tyler Tjomsland/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

Eastern Washington University will require students, faculty and staff to get vaccinated against COVID-19 before the start of the fall term.

Interim President David May announced the decision in a statement to the campus community Thursday. The move marks a positional change from last month when May, then announcing that vaccinations would not be required, stated “the decision to get vaccinated is not one that we can make for you.”

On Thursday, May said he has since consulted with local and regional public health experts, faculty, staff, the institution’s executive leadership team, human resources and on-campus risk and compliance representatives about a requirement. He said he has also discussed the matter with Dr. Francisco Velazquez, interim health officer for the Spokane Regional Health District.

May said David Line, EWU’s Masters in Public Health program director who was initially supportive of the decision to not install a requirement, recently pointed him to American College Health Association recommendations released May 25. The ACHA recommends a vaccine requirement.

“These decisions are much more fluid. These decisions have to be more fluid than the black-and-white decisions that we made in the spring,” May said. “That feels like it’s, in some ways, less comfortable, but it’s a discomfort that I think if we can bear under it, allows us to get where we want to be, which is a safe feeling: normal.”

EWU joins a number of other universities and colleges across the state to invoke a vaccine requirement. Others include Washington State University, the University of Washington, Central Washington University and Western Washington University.

EWU’s vaccination requirement will allow for religious and medical exemptions.

While some institutions across the state of Washington have allowed for personal exemptions, May said EWU’s COVID-19 vaccine requirement does not include one at this time.

“These things continue to be part of discussions both on campus and off,” he said.

Students who are learning fully online are exempt from the vaccination requirement.

EWU’s COVID-19 requirement will most likely align with protocols established by the university’s immunization policy for mumps, measles and rubella. May said university officials are still deciding on appropriate enforcement measures, including whether to fine anyone who is noncompliant.

“It’s still less about coercive force and more about partnership and education,” May said.

EWU community members are asked to upload their vaccination information to Med+Proctor ahead of the fall term. More information is available at ewu.edu/immunizations.

May’s reversal comes on the heels of the recently announced EagsVaxUp initiative. Regarded as a three-pronged approach to encouraging vaccinations for the EWU community, the initiative includes an incentive program to make vaccinated students and others eligible for prizes from drawings in the coming months, including a year’s worth of free tuition.

May said the university is seeing “great participation” from EWU community members uploading their vaccination information to Med+Proctor. The university is also hosting a walk-in clinic with the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine Wednesday at the Pence Union Building.

While the university is unsure where the campus community’s vaccination rate stands at this point, May is encouraging anyone vaccinated to upload their information so EWU can track those numbers heading into the fall.

“EWU remains committed to raising awareness, providing incentives and easing access to vaccines for the entire population of students, faculty and staff. That will remain the focus in the coming weeks and months,” May said in his statement. “However, continual reevaluation of the best advice from experts is necessary as we deal with a fluid and nuanced emergence from the pandemic.”

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