Students at the University of Washington. (Photo by Karen Ducey/Getty Images)
The University of Washington is forcing its students to get the COVID vaccines to return to campus. So is Pacific Lutheran University. But neither school offers such requirements for its staff. And masks? They won’t commit either way.
UW offers a somewhat confusing excuse for its inconsistent directive. As for PLU, after ignoring multiple requests for comment, a spokesperson finally responded only to offer no comment. Perhaps the silence is due to the policy not making any sense.
Students sit in the demographic least likely to suffer serious complications from COVID. On the other hand, the staff is more likely to suffer serious health complications from the coronavirus.
Nonsensical positions send a bizarre message
The UW announced its requirement Monday, extending the requirement to students on all three of its campuses in Seattle, Bothell, and Tacoma.
“Widespread vaccination is the only real way we can put the COVID-19 pandemic behind us and return to a more normal way of living, learning, and working,” UW President Ana Mari Cauce wrote in a message to the UW community.
PLU President Allan Belton announced the policy in an email to undergraduates and graduates last week. There will be exceptions only for medical or religious reasons. They will host free vaccination events to help students get the shots.
“This policy is similar to our current requirements for measles, mumps, and rubella vaccination,” Belton explained.
Neither school requires staff to get the shots, though for different reasons.
Vaccines for students but not teachers?
It makes very little sense for young, healthy students to get vaccines but not older staff members, given the risks from COVID.
“We made the call about students now because we wanted to urge them to get vaccinated now if they plan to return home for the summer,” UW spokesperson Victor Balta tells the Jason Rantz Show on KTTH. “As a state employer, faculty and staff decisions such as these require some additional consultation with our leadership and the state.”
But the UW also employs students as staff. And Washington State University, a public school, is compelling staff to get the vaccine. I suspect this decision is due to union pushback, but Balta said he was “not aware of any formal conversations with unions regarding the vaccination requirement.”
At PLU, spokesperson Zach Powers initially ignored two emails and a phone call asking about their decision to force the vaccine on students but not staff.
Finally, Powers responded with a statement unrelated to my question. When I asked for a response to the question I asked, he said, “We don’t have any additional comment.” I suppose when one can’t defend a position, it makes sense not to dig a hole you can’t get out of.
Even less sense: masks
Will masks be required for students and staff? It remains unclear, but it’s a possibility.
Balta says a decision on wearing masks hasn’t been made yet. The UW will “continue to follow public health guidance as it evolves over the months to come,” he said.
PLU’s Powers did not respond to an email seeking comment.
There is no science to justify masks for anyone who is vaccinated. Why get a vaccine if you have to wear a mask?
None of this makes sense
To force a vaccine on an otherwise healthy student makes little sense. For a public school, it’s especially unconscionable.
For starters, many of these students may have already contracted COVID and may be naturally immune. We also do not have much data on what a vaccine does to people currently living with natural immunity.
We also know that young, healthy students suffer few consequences of COVID. The risk of death or hospitalization to a college-aged student in good health is less than 0.1% and 1%, respectively. Even when you add comorbidities like obesity and cancer, while the risk of hospitalization goes up, the risk of death remains at 0.1%.
We know more about COVID now than at the start of the pandemic. We have better treatment that makes hospitalization less likely and death incredibly rare for young people. Yet their staff, in a considerably more vulnerable age group, has a vaccine option. That is a suspect and illogical position.
I think individuals should get vaccinations in consultation with their doctors. That’s what I did. It’s fair to ask questions without being called an anti-vaxxer. Save that label for people who literally don’t want you getting vaccines. I want you to get it if you and your doctor agree; I just don’t want it forced on you.
It should be an option for both students and staff. The vaccine is widely available. We know the COVID risks. It’s time to let adults make up their own minds rather than selectively deciding who will have the vaccines mandated for them.
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