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Nov. 27, 2021

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Washington State University announces 88 percent COVID-19 vaccination rate among employees

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Spokane — Nearly 90 percent of Washington State University employees are COVID-19 vaccinated, the university announced Friday.

The announcement comes just days after the feasible deadline for state employees to become fully vaccinated by Oct. 18 in accordance with Gov. Jay Inslee’s vaccination mandate. The mandate also allows for religious and medical exemptions.

WSU employees were required to verify their vaccine status by Monday to be considered fully vaccinated by Oct. 18. Of the approximately 10,000 full- and part-time WSU employees across the state, 88 percent were fully or partially vaccinated as of Tuesday.

Among employees affiliated with the Pullman campus, which also includes WSU Extension and WSU research centers statewide, roughly 87 percent were vaccinated. The most vaccinated campus is Vancouver, at 96 percent, while Everett is the least vaccinated, at 83 percent. The Spokane campus reports a 90 percent vaccination rate among employees.

“With a critical state deadline approaching for our employees, we’ve sought to work through pockets of hesitancy and uncertainty with compassion and understanding but with a firm commitment to making sure we’re doing everything possible to deliver a robust in-person educational experience,” WSU President Kirk Schulz said in a statement.

As of Oct. 6, WSU employees had submitted 437 religious exemption requests, with 98 approved. There were another 101 medical exemption requests, with 41 approved so far.

That leaves another roughly 7 percent of employees across the WSU system who have not taken any action, whether to submit an exemption request or get fully vaccinated.

In those cases, WSU spokesman Phil Weiler said the university’s human resources office is “already starting the process for separation.”

“This is very much a snapshot in time,” he said. “Numbers will change as we get closer to the Oct. 18 deadline. There is a percentage of people who have not taken action. It doesn’t mean they won’t take action in these remaining days, but this does give us a good preliminary look at where we are.”

Additional data breakdowns are available online at news.wsu.edu/wsu-vaccination-and-exemption-data.

Of the approximately 1,250 requests submitted by all employees and students, 800 have been granted thus far. Weiler said a number have been rejected; the university did not provide the exact amount, however.

The exemption review process is ongoing.

Employee medical exemptions are reviewed by the university’s Disability Services team, according to WSU.

For religious requests, evaluators review them “blind,” according to the university’s announcement Friday, meaning the requester’s identity is unknown except in cases where additional information is needed.

For students, requests are judged by a panel of faculty and staff from all WSU campuses “with expertise in religions, diverse backgrounds, and legal accommodations.” Employee requests are reviewed by a committee formed from university human resources and the Office of Civil Rights and Compliance.

There’s no guarantee that exemption requests received up until Oct. 18 will be reviewed before the deadline, Weiler said.

“If the 18th comes and you are not either fully vaccinated or you have not received an exemption, then you cannot work for the university for pay,” he said, adding that employees could either take unpaid leave or vacation time in the interim.

Weiler said if the team reviewing the request approves an employee’s exemption request, that is then taken to the person’s supervisor, who then makes a determination based on two questions: Can this person carry out their duties fully as an unvaccinated person, and can they do their duties in a way that preserves public health?

“On the flip side, you could have a situation where an employee interacts with students on a regular basis or the public on a routine basis,” he said, “and in that case, the supervisor may say, ‘No, I don’t believe this person can fully complete their duties and keep the public safe if they’re unvaccinated.’”

WSU football coach Nick Rolovich’s vaccination status has been the subject of scrutiny over the past several months, as he has not publicly indicated how he plans to comply with the state’s vaccine mandate after announcing in July he didn’t plan on receiving a COVID-19 vaccine.

Weiler said he could not comment on a specific employee’s vaccination status.

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