By SUSAN JONES
As of July 28, approximately 23,700 people have disclosed their COVID-19 vaccination status through Pitt’s vaccine incentive program and 97 percent of the respondents have indicated that they are fully vaccinated.
“The response rate is better among faculty and staff, than students, and we are working to increase the number of responses among our student populations,” a University spokesman said.
“While we have received some questions and concerns, the overall response has been positive and the number of students disclosing their vaccination status to Student Health Services increases every day.”
Pitt has approximately 33,000 students across all campuses and about 14,000 employees, according to the 2021 Pitt fact book. The number of people who have declared their vaccine status so far represents about 50 percent of the total Pitt community.
In a message earlier this month, Chancellor Patrick Gallagher said that, in general, Pitt will assume that every student, faculty and staff member is unvaccinated until they disclose otherwise and provide evidence of being fully vaccinated. He stressed that Pitt is not neutral about vaccines.
“Everyone who can get vaccinated should be vaccinated — and our objective is to achieve very high immunization rates on our campuses,” he said. “We are mandating compliance with our virus control program for everyone at the University, including students, faculty, staff, guests and contractors. Due to the effectiveness of the vaccines, global mitigation and containment strategies may be relaxed for individuals who are fully vaccinated. Therefore, the virus control program requirements that apply to you will generally depend on your vaccination status.”
In June, Dean of Students Kenyon Bonner sent a message to students that said those moving into University housing for the fall 2021 term are required to submit proof of immunization to Student Health Services or request an exemption.
Those who are not fully vaccinated or have not disclosed their vaccination status will be required to participate in several containment measures:
Mandatory virus testing — the frequency will be established by our COVID-19 Medical Response Office (CMRO), but this could be as often as once a week.
Contact tracing to identify potential exposure.
Quarantine and/or isolation if exposed or infected.
For students living in on-campus housing: Negative COVID-19 test results before arrival.
Gallagher’s message said that failure to comply with any required virus control measure, which at this time still includes wearing masks inside Pitt buildings, may result in disciplinary action, including the loss of access to University buildings and activities.
The CMRO will continue to operate at least through the fall term, a University spokesman said, and will be overseeing the testing, contract tracing, and quarantine and isolation protocols for unvaccinated individuals.
Those who provide their vaccination status through a Pitt’s incentive program are entered into a drawing for prizes ranging from $2,500 to tickets for sporting events. Prizes will be given weekly through Aug. 6.
Vaccine requirements evolving
In this message last week, Gallagher said “coverage of ‘vaccine mandates’ at other colleges and universities is causing confusion about Pitt’s approach and is misleading.” A vaccine mandate is an enforced requirement that would prohibit unvaccinated individuals from accessing an institution’s campuses, buildings and programs, he said.
That’s exactly the approach that Indiana University is taking, and a federal judge’s ruling last week supported the school’s decision.
In June, Indiana administrators announced that students would have to verify their vaccination status with the school unless they applied for a medical or religious exemption. Those without exemptions could have their class schedules canceled, their student IDs deactivated and wouldn't be allowed to participate in on-campus activities, according to the lawsuit. Faculty and staff could lose their jobs, the release said, adding that working remotely and not meeting the vaccine requirement “is not an option.”
U.S. District Judge Damon Leichty, who was appointed by President Trump, rejected a request from students to block Indiana University's vaccine mandate. The eight students who filed the suit said the mandate infringed on their bodily autonomy and medical privacy
The IU news release said, “Knowing that the vast majority of the IU community is vaccinated is the only way the university can confidently return to in-person classes, more in-person events and a more typical university experience.”
Leichty in his decision said: “The students ‘are not asking to be allowed to make a self-contained choice to risk only their own health’ in making this decision — their decision necessarily bears on the health of other students, faculty, and staff. … The balance of harms doesn’t weigh in the students’ favor here."
The Washington Post noted in its story on the ruling that IU, with about 90,000 students on several campuses, is one of the most prominent public universities in a Republican-led state to adopt a vaccine mandate. Purdue University, also in Indiana, does not have a mandate.
In the past two weeks, several other public entities have adopted more stringent vaccination requirements. On July 29, President Biden announced that all federal employees and contractors must be vaccinated against COVID-19 or they will have to submit to regular testing and mitigation requirements.
In addition, the Department of Veterans Affairs said it will require COVID-19 vaccinations for its front-line health care employees; California will require state employees and some health-care workers to show proof of vaccinations or face mandatory weekly testing; and New York City said municipal workers — including teachers and police officers — must get vaccinated by mid-September or undergo weekly coronavirus testing.
Nationwide, around 57 percent of all those eligible for COVID vaccines have received at least one shot. In Pennsylvania, that number is up to 65 percent.
At least 34 private colleges in Pennsylvania are requiring all students to be vaccinated or have exemptions, including Carnegie Mellon, Chatham, Duquesne, Point Park and Washington & Jefferson, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education. No public schools in the state have vaccine mandates.
Susan Jones is editor of the University Times. Reach her at email@example.com or 724-244-4042.
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