Vaccine Information

After careful consideration and assessing the direction taken by several public and private universities both within Washington state and nationally, Western will require COVID vaccinations for students, faculty, and staff before returning to campus for the fall 2021 quarter.  This decision was endorsed by the WWU Board of Trustees at a special meeting on Wednesday, May 5, in the belief that it will protect the health and safety of the community on- and off- campus and speed our return to more normal in-person operations.

This mandate is based on the advice of local, state, and national health department officials and guidance from the Governor’s office.  It is also based on the expectation that the coronavirus vaccines currently approved for emergency use will receive full approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration by summer, which has been one of the primary factors in our consideration of a vaccine mandate.  These vaccines have been in use since mid-December under emergency use authorizations.  Since that time, data have shown the vaccines to be effective against the coronavirus against the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. 

The questions and answers below address not only questions around the vaccines and their use, but around the implementation of the vaccine mandate for fall.

Questions about the vaccine mandate

Why did Western decide to move forward with mandating vaccines?

This mandate is based on the best guidance and advice of local, state, and national health public department officials and guidance from the Governor’s Office. This mandate is also based on theexpectation that the coronavirus vaccines currently approved for emergency use will receive full approvalfrom the U.S. Food and Drug Administration by this summer and before the fall quarter starts. Similar vaccine mandates also have been approved at other public institutions in the state such as the University of Washington, Washington State University, Central Washington University and Evergreen State College.

Why is Western mandating the use of a series of vaccines that are still only for emergency use?

The safety of our campus community is our highest priority, and the FDA has approved emergency use of the Moderna, Pfizer and the Janssen/Johnson & Johnson vaccines because it determined that the vaccines’ known and potential benefits far outweigh their known and potential risks, and that they are an extremely effective tool in preventing the spread of coronavirus, hospitalizations and death. Each vaccine demonstrated safety and efficacy in large clinical studies to the FDA’s satisfaction under this exceptional emergency standard.We have made vaccination an urgent priority because we believe a fully vaccinated campus is the best way to protect our individual and collective community health and safety.

What does Western hope to accomplish by requiring vaccinations?

Through widespread vaccination, WWU can more confidently loosen or remove restrictions that have impacted social and mental well-being and increase access to a more enriched in-person campus living and learning experience for more students. We are making this announcement in the hope that community members will be and feel safer and more comfortable as we make a vibrant, on-campus return this fall, and have as much time as possible to make informed planning decisions.

If a person has had COVID, do they still have to get the vaccine?

Yes, they do.

Will there be a procedure for student and employee exemptions?

Western will consider requests for applicable exemptions for medical, religious and personal reasons; these exemptions will be consistent with the policy currently in place for our measles vaccination requirement. More information will be provided before the end of spring quarter on how to file for an exemption.

Does the mandate conflict with previously bargained positions with employee unions?

The COVID-19 vaccine mandate for Western employees requires the University to formally notify unions and engage in good faith negotiations.

Will masking and social distancing requirements still be in placeafter the mandate is implemented?

All rules around masking andsocial distancing adopted via guidance by the Washington State Department of Health and the Centers for Disease Control will remain in place until those guidelines are lifted by those organizations or they change based on national, regional, and local coronavirus caseloads and the most current science.

Will students’ and employee vaccination records be private and confidential?

Absolutely. The same federal HIPAA and FERPA rulesthat protect the privacy of students’ medical and education records covers their coronavirus vaccination records as well. Employee records are closely held byHuman Resources, which strictly observes employees privacy requirements under state and federal laws.

Questions about Vaccines

What does the vaccine protect me from?

The vaccine protects you from getting seriously ill if you contract COVID-19. It is unknown yet if the vaccine prevents you from catching and spreading the virus; this is why measures such as mask-wearing and social distancing are still important.

When can I receive the vaccine?

All Washington state residents ages 16 and older became eligible for the vaccine on April 15. If you are a Western student living outside of Washington state, please see your own state guidelines for eligibility.

On February 5, the Student Health Center was approved to be a vaccine provider by the state Department of Health, meaning the center will be able to vaccinate members of the Western community in the future. Planning is still underway for how this will work, but we will share more information as plans are solidified. 

How can I be sure that the vaccine is safe?

Some people may be concerned if the vaccine is safe due to how quickly it became available. The vaccines currently available went through the same rigorous testing and trials as any other vaccine. The reason it moved through the processes so quickly is due to the urgent need for it, which allowed for many of the roadblocks for a vaccine, such as funding concerns, to be dealt with swiftly. You can learn more about the safety of the COVID-19 vaccines on the Washington Department of Health website.

What are common side effects after the COVID vaccination?

Common side effects from vaccination include pain, swelling or redness where the shot was given, a mild fever, chills, fatigue, headache, and muscle and joint aches. These side effects were also noted in COVID-19 vaccine clinical trials. Side effects are more common after the second dose. If you have concerns or questions about any side effects after receiving the vaccine, check with your medical provider

How much does the vaccine cost?

The vaccine itself will be of no cost, as it was purchased federally with taxpayer funds. However, depending on where you go to get your vaccine, they may choose to charge an administrative fee for the act of vaccinating you. Many insurance providers will cover this cost, but especially if you do not have insurance, it is important to be aware of this potential cost.

How long will the vaccine protect me? Will I need to get another shot every year?

There hasn’t been enough research yet to know how long immunity from the vaccine will last. As research continues, we will learn if people need to get regular boosters of the vaccine.

What are the differences between the vaccines currently available?

Right now, both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccine have similar levels of efficacy and safety. The key differences for patients are that the Pfizer vaccine is approved for people aged 16 and up, whereas the Moderna vaccine is approved for people aged 18 and up. Additionally, the time you need to wait between the first and second dose is 21 days for Pfizer and 28 days for Moderna. While Pfizer and Moderna use mRNA, the more recently approved Johnson & Johnson vaccine uses a viral vector delivery system to stimulate an immune response. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine has demonstrated 72% efficacy in the United States, and while that is lower than the 95% efficacy rate of the mRNA vaccines, the J&J vaccine is of equal efficacy for preventing hospitalizations, serious illness, and death. It also requires a single dose, rather than two.

Healthcare authorities advise people to get whichever vaccine is available to them when they are eligible, as each is an effective and important tool in protecting our communities and ending the pandemic.

Will the vaccine give me COVID-19?

No. The vaccine does not use any live COVID-19 molecules, so you are not getting inoculated with the virus, which means it cannot give you COVID-19.

Can I stop wearing a mask and social distancing once I’m vaccinated?

According to the latest guidance from the CDC, once you are fully vaccinated (two weeks after your second dose of Moderna or Pfizer, or two weeks after your  single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccination), you can:

  • Visit with other fully vaccinated people indoors without wearing masks or physical distancing
  • Visit with unvaccinated people from a single household who are at low risk for severe COVID-19 disease indoors without wearing masks or physical distancing
  • Refrain from quarantine and testing following a known exposure if asymptomatic

For now, fully vaccinated people should continue to:

  • Take precautions in public like wearing a well-fitted mask and physical distancing
  • Wear masks, practice physical distancing, and adhere to other prevention measures when visiting with unvaccinated people who are at increased risk for severe COVID-19 disease or who have an unvaccinated household member who is at increased risk for severe COVID-19 disease
  • Wear masks, maintain physical distance, and practice other prevention measures when visiting with unvaccinated people from multiple households

More details and information on recommendations for fully vaccinated people is available at the CDC website, here.

What can I do if I'm fully vaccinated?

Western Washington University is following the guidance released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) regarding post-vaccine behavior.  The Washington State Department of Health (DOH) has also adopted these guidelines. 

If someone has been fully vaccinated, they can: 

  • Gather indoors with fully vaccinated people in private residences without wearing a mask. 
  • Gather indoors with unvaccinated people from one other household in private residences (for example, visiting with relatives who all live together) without masks, unless any of those people or anyone they live with has an increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19. 
  • If a vaccinated person has been around someone with COVID-19, they do not need to quarantine or get tested unless they have symptoms.

As a student with an on-campus presence, if I'm fully vaccinated, do I still have to get tested every two weeks?

Any fully vaccinated student with an on-campus presence will no longer be required to participate in surveillance testing every two weeks. To be cleared from this testing requirement, students can submit a copy of their COVID Immunization Card to the Student Health Center (SHC) via the secure patient portal at MyWesternHealth. SHC staff will update the COVID Clearance Status and remove the testing requirement. Daily health screens will continue to be required. Uploading the COVID vaccine card in MyWesternHealth is a secure and safe way to communicate private health information to the Student Health Center, and student vaccination information will not be shared.

What health and safety behaviors should I continue after being vaccinated?

Anyone who is fully vaccinated with an on-campus presence will be required to complete their symptom attestations for each day they are on campus. 

Regardless of vaccination status, people should still take steps to protect themselves and others while in public settings. This includes wearing a mask, staying at least 6 feet from others, and avoiding crowds and poorly ventilated spaces. In addition, people should still avoid medium or large-sized gatherings and continue to watch for symptoms of COVID-19, especially if they’ve been around someone who is sick.

What if I'm only partially vaccinated?

Anyone who is partially vaccinated (has only received one dose of a two-dose series) will need to follow appropriate guidelines for testing, quarantine or self-isolation if they become symptomatic or have been around someone with COVID-19. 

Are COVID vaccines required?

After careful consideration and assessing the direction taken by several public and private universities both within Washington state and nationally, Western will require COVID vaccinations for students, faculty, and staff before returning to campus for the fall 2021 quarter. This mandate is based on the advice of local, state, and national health department officials and guidance from the Governor’s office. It is also based on the expectation that the coronavirus vaccines currently approved for emergency use will receive full approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration by summer, which has been one of the primary factors in our consideration of a vaccine mandate. These vaccines have been in use since mid-December under emergency use authorizations.  Since that time, data have shown the vaccines to be  effective against the coronavirus against the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

Students will need to verify that they have been vaccinated unless they are claiming an exemption. If students are unable to get vaccinated because of where they currently reside, the University will provide access to vaccination upon arrival to campus.

Will exemptions be available for fall?

Western will consider requests for applicable exemptions for medical, religious and personal reasons; these exemptions will be consistent with the policy currently in place for our measles vaccination requirement.  More information will be provided before the end of spring quarter on how to file for an exemption.

Should I get vaccinated if I’ve already had COVID-19?

If you have had COVID-19, you should still get vaccinated once you are eligible. The natural immunity from being previously infected with COVID-19 decreases over time, so you will be best protected if you get vaccinated and continue to social distance, wear a mask, and wash your hands.

Is there anyone who should not be vaccinated with COVID-19 vaccine?

Individuals with a known history of a severe allergic reaction (e.g. anaphylaxis) or immediate allergic reaction to a previous dose of COVID-19 vaccine or any component of a COVID-19 vaccine should not receive the vaccine.

If I have allergies, can I get the COVID-19 vaccine?

Yes. Seasonal allergies and even food allergies, including allergies to shellfish and peanuts, do not exclude you from getting the COVID-19 vaccine. Individuals who had severe reactions, like anaphylaxis, to injectable medication or vaccines in the past should not get the COVID-19 vaccine at this time.