MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – West Virginia University issued the following statement, in part, on Monday (Aug. 23) after the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) fully approved the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine:
“The University will continue its course of monitoring vaccination verification rates, infection and hospitalization rates, and other factors as we conduct sample testing, wastewater testing and partner with local health departments to offer free community testing and vaccination clinics.”
WVU’s Vice President for Strategic Initiatives Rob Alsop said vaccination rates among students, faculty and staff are looking good and on the right trajectory. The university’s goal is to have more than 80 percent of its population vaccinated.
“Our rates are over 70% at this point in time, and so, our strategies over the summer in the past few weeks have been successful in increasing vaccination rates,” Alsop said. “And the university’s goal is to get as many people vaccinated as we can. It’s just a matter of what’s the best way to bring everybody together to get there. And, we think, that that’s to keep on that same path and to work on convincing and educating folks.”
When you consider those vaccinated, plus natural immunity, WVU leadership believes the school is in a good position as it relates to the future and handling the Delta variant, Alsop said.
The university has heard from a lot of students and parents who said there are many people who are vaccine-hesitant. Plus, most of what the university has offered has been the Moderna COVID vaccine, which has not received full FDA approval.
After factoring in those two facts, Alsop said, WVU decided to stay on the same path. But, that does not mean it will always stay on that path.
“We’re not saying no, never to a mandate,” Alsop said. “But, we’re saying the better approach right now is to keep the same path. You know, we can always re-evaluate at a later time, or for the next academic year. But, for right now, given what we’ve heard from again our students, our customers, in other words, and in our community, our best path is to continue to strongly encourage the vaccine.”
WVU’s statement on vaccine mandates also comes as WVU Health System said it will require all employees to be vaccinated. It announced on Monday that it will require all of its employees to be fully vaccinated with both doses of the two-dose series by Oct. 31, 2021.
Although the university and hospital system are two separate entities, they do have some overlapping areas, namely students who work with patients from the hospitals.
Alsop said he understands why WVU Medicine would mandate vaccines for students working with patients.
“One of the things that we’ve heard is there have been challenges with staffing,” Alsop said. “And so, you know, if someone tests positive and they haven’t been vaccinated, and they have to quarantine and then, all of a sudden, you have a health care provider who can’t show up to take care of patients. That’s a little bit different situation than the employment situation here at the university. And so, as they’ve been very busy through COVID and thinking about those staffing areas moving forward that that can be a real challenge.”
However, at the university, Alsop said, there is, really, no need to mandate vaccines as rates are heading toward 80 percent.
Alsop said mandating vaccines right now could “hinder” the university, especially when it comes to filling critical job vacancies.
We know our vaccination rates are not as high as we’d like them to be for some of our folks in custodial services or some of those areas. That’s an area where we already have a significant amount of vacancies, and one of the things we don’t want to do is to say, ‘OK, you have to get a vaccine or you can’t work here anymore’. And then, you know, we have additional vacancies, which actually hinder our ability to get student services, so it’s really a couple of different ways of working through how we help and navigate through with our employees. It’s a really hard situation either way. We have the same goal. How do we get to, you know — we are at 70. We’d love to get above 80% from a vaccination rate and how we get there. But yeah, we do think that for, again, for the time being and for where we’re working through this, that encouraging vaccines for our faculty, staff and our students is the most appropriate for the university.Rob Alsop – VP for Strategic Initiatives
Alsop said students have been “terrific” in getting vaccinated as they return to campus.
They’ve done what WVU has asked them to do, he added.
“We’d love to see more from a vaccine perspective, but they’re all happy,” Alsop said. “They’re all thrilled to be in class and we’re thrilled to have them back. And we’re trying to work through as best we can this semester for the educational opportunities, and we’re excited for that.”
The rest of WVU’s statement about vaccine mandates and approval of the Pfizer jab is below:
Our current vaccination verification rates among our faculty, staff and students are climbing – nearing or exceeding 70% on the Morgantown Campus. In some groups (ie: instructors, students in residence halls, fraternities and sororities), these rates are between 70–80%. Our data dashboard is launching this week and will help us to track progress throughout the semester. As a result, WVU will continue to strongly encourage students, faculty and staff to be vaccinated, wear a mask in our classrooms and labs and use the proven tools available to combat the spread of COVID-19. Those on the Health Sciences Campus involved in patient care, including residents, fellows and students, are required to follow separate WVU Health System policies, including those related to COVID-19, such as masks, PPE and vaccinations.West Virginia University