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, 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 Pfizer vaccine has now received full approval from the FDA.
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
Where can I get the vaccine?
COVID-19 Vaccines are readily available in Washington State. Please visit the DOH's vaccine locator to learn more.
Why did Western decide to move forward with mandating vaccines?
This 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 the expectation that the coronavirus vaccines currently approved for emergency use will receive full approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The Pfizer vaccine has now received full approval from the FDA. 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. Additionally, COVID-19 vaccinations are mandated by the state for higher education employees.
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. At this time, the Pfizer vaccine has been granted full FDA approval. Moderna and Janssen/Johnson & Johnson (J&J) vaccines are still under emergency use authorization.
The FDA has approved emergency use of the 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, Western students and employees still need to get vaccinated, even if they have had COVID-19. 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 be a procedure for student and employee exemptions?
Western will consider requests for applicable exemptions for medical and religious reasons; these exemptions will be consistent with the policy currently in place for our measles vaccination requirement. More information can be found on the Student Health Center website for students, and the HR website for employees.
Additionally, you can view the Student Vaccine Compliance Flowchart or the Employee Vaccine Compliance Flowchart
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.
Are masking and social distancing requirements still in place since the mandate was implemented?
Masks are required on campus regardless of vaccination status. Social distancing requirements have been discontinued. All rules around masking and social distancing have been adopted via guidance by the Washington State Department of Health and the Center for Disease Control. Western will continue to monitor national, state, and local coronavirus cases and the most current science to inform decisions.
Will students’ and employee vaccination records be private and confidential?
Absolutely. The same federal HIPAA and FERPA rules that protect the privacy of students’ medical and education records cover their coronavirus vaccination records as well. Employee records are closely held by Human Resources, which strictly observes employees' privacy requirements under state and federal laws.
As a student with an on-campus presence, if I'm fully vaccinated, do I still have to get tested for COVID-19 regularly?
All fully vaccinated students with an on-campus presence will continue to participate in surveillance testing, but it will no longer be in two-week intervals, it will be far less frequent. You will be notified when it is your turn to sign up for a surveillance test through your Student Health Center portal.
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.
Questions about Vaccines
What does the vaccine protect me from?
The vaccine protects you from getting seriously ill if you contract COVID-19. The vaccines also help lessen the chances of catching and spreading the virus. However, measures such as mask-wearing and social distancing are still important.
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. At this time, national health authorities are recommending that everyone should receive a booster shot of their vaccination eight months after their second dose of Moderna or Pfizer. It has not yet been determined if and when booster shots should occur for people who received the J&J vaccine. More information about booster shots can be found on the CDC website.
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 12 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.
What health and safety behaviors should I continue after being vaccinated?
Regardless of vaccination status, people should still take steps to protect themselves and others while in public settings. This includes wearing a mask and washing your hands. In addition, you should watch for symptoms of COVID-19, especially if you have been around someone who is sick. Please, stay home if you are not feeling well.
Should I get vaccinated if I’ve already had COVID-19?
If you have had COVID-19, you should still get vaccinated. 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 the 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.