More than 100 universities nationwide, including Oregon State University, have decided to require proof of COVID-19 vaccination from students, faculty and staff before the upcoming fall term. The University of Oregon has yet to release its decision as of Wednesday, May 5, four days after high school seniors were required to commit to a university.
In an April 28 senate meeting, UO Provost Patrick Phillips said that the university will announce a decision on this matter by the end of spring term. He said updates will come in the next senate meeting taking place on May 19.
Washington State University and statewide university systems in California and Colorado announced last week that they would require proof of COVID-19 vaccinations. In Oregon, the University of Portland, Willamette University, Lewis & Clark College and OSU have all made the same declaration.
“The UO needs to weigh complex legal, logistical and equity challenges before deciding on a policy requiring a vaccine,” UO spokesperson Saul Hubbard wrote in a statement.
In the senate meeting, Phillips said the university’s Safety Advisory Committee will continue to consider advice from health officials and other universities.
“At this moment, because there is not direct urgency with relationship to the fall, there’s no reason for us not to continue to be in conversation as a partner with the governor, with the OHA and with the other universities in the state,” he said.
While UO has not yet taken an official stance, Phillips offered insight into what mandatory vaccination would likely require should UO decide to implement it.
“The best thing to do is to look at the University of California policy,” he said, which states that students, faculty and staff will have to be fully vaccinated if the U.S. Food and Drug Administration grants “full approval” to vaccines. Currently, the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines are authorized for emergency use. While the vaccines have been rigorously tested, emergency authorization expedites testing procedures. Full FDA approval entails an additional look at vaccine safety and would allow vaccines to be marketed and distributed directly.
Phillips said that the university would make exceptions for religious and medical reasons as needed.
UO will also consider the “court of public opinion,” Phillips said, meaning student, staff and faculty views. There is time for senate meeting attendees to comment on topics of discussion.
These views were important to Willamette University administrators as well. The university felt their 3,200 students and faculty wanted the “Willamette experience,” including in-person classes and activities.
“We want fall to be as close to normal as we possibly can make it,” Vice President for Marketing and Communications Tim Cobb said. “Requiring a vaccine from everyone is a way to achieve both of those things.”
As for UO, community concerns, health guidelines and Oregon university policies will all lead them to a decision fairly soon.
“We will resolve these issues in a timely fashion so everybody has clarity before fall starts, well before fall, definitely before the end of this academic year,” Phillips said.