Pitt to require COVID-19 vaccination starting Dec. 6


Pamela Smith | Visual Editor

The CMRO said the Pitt CoVax Vaccination Center will offer COVID-19 vaccinations for children ages 5-11 as early as Nov. 4.

By Jon Moss and Millicent Watt

Pitt announced in a Monday campuswide email that all students and employees must be vaccinated against COVID-19, or receive an approved exemption, beginning Dec. 6. The vaccine joins the measles, mumps, rubella, chicken pox and meningitis vaccines already required by the University.

The move, which takes effect on the second week of classes after Thanksgiving break, followed months of pressure from elected campus leaders, who nearly all expressed support last spring by wide margins for a requirement. It also comes after some have questioned how, if at all, funding from Pennsylvania’s Republican-led legislature has played into the vaccine mandate calculus by state-related universities. The State Senate leader said Penn State would likely face “pushback” if a mandate took effect, but the state-related university ended up rolling out a requirement that will also start in December.

Pitt faculty, staff and students who have not uploaded proof of vaccination are currently required to take weekly COVID-19 tests. Negative test results or failure to get tested results in loss of access to University buildings. Currently, 92% of faculty members, 91% of staff and 95% of undergraduate students have submitted proof of vaccination.

The University said in the email that its current approach is “not sustainable in the long term.” Chancellor Patrick Gallagher said at September’s Senate Council meeting that the University’s weekly COVID-19 testing program for the unvaccinated was estimated to cost between $20 to $50 million.

“By enforcing this requirement now, we will be able to maintain a high immunization rate on our campuses,” the email said, “while continuing to support our students and research, as well as protect our workforce, with minimal disruption to our programs, activities or operations.”

The requirement will affect 2,250 students, 240 faculty and 700 staff members who have not disclosed their vaccination status, the email said. Currently enrolled students who fail to comply with the Dec. 6 deadline will not be able to enroll for spring classes or live in residence halls as of Jan. 1, 2022. Students who have already enrolled in classes but fail to provide proof of vaccination or obtain a proper exemption will be disenrolled. Current employees will be subject to disciplinary action, which will include loss of access to electronic resources and other disciplinary actions up to and including termination of employment, the email said.

Pitt community members can request an exemption beginning next Monday from the vaccine requirement for medical reasons, or reasons based on sincerely held religious belief or because of a strong moral or ethical conviction,” according to the email. The email said the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion will review these requests on a case-by-case basis. Those granted an exemption will be subject to additional mitigation measures, such as routine COVID-19 testing.

The email added that this is an interim policy, and a formal charter and committee are being formed to create a permanent policy. Faculty Assembly President Robin Kear said Oct. 18 that she was part of a group that analyzed the possible consequences related to faculty vaccination requirements, and also noted that she is “glad” there may be a possible vaccination policy.

Kear said Monday that she is “glad to see Pitt moving ahead with a vaccine requirement to keep the Pitt community safe and healthy.”

Harshitha Ramanan, the Student Government Board president, said she is “thrilled” about the new policy.

“We are hoping that members of the Pitt Community who haven’t had the chance to get vaccinated use this as an incentive to get vaccinated soon!” Ramanan said.

A Pitt spokesperson said buildings will continue to remain closed to the general public, and the University will require individuals to swipe or tap their Panther card to gain entrance.

Pitt’s CoVax Vaccination Center is open to the public and offers all three COVID-19 vaccines to all community members, including the new booster shots. The Center accepts both registered appointments or walk-ins.

A previous version of this story said the requirement would take effect on the first week of classes after Thanksgiving break. It will take effect on the second week. The article has been updated to reflect this change. The Pitt News regrets this error.