Students welcome Pitt’s new vaccine mandate

Students%2C+pictured%2C+at+a+late+January+vaccination+clinic+hosted+by+Pitt+and+the+Allegheny+County+Health+Department.

Rachhana Baliga | Staff Photographer

Students, pictured, at a late January vaccination clinic hosted by Pitt and the Allegheny County Health Department.

By Abby Cardilli, Staff Writer

Pitt’s vaccination policy, which requires that all students, faculty and staff be vaccinated against COVID-19, went into effect Monday. The stakes for unvaccinated students who don’t get an exemption are high — disenrollment for the spring semester.

The interim policy, which the University announced Nov. 1, mandates that students, faculty and staff complete a series of COVID-19 vaccine doses authorized or approved by the Food and Drug Administration or World Health Organization, including those made by Moderna, Johnson & Johnson and Pfizer. If a student fails to meet the deadline, they will not be eligible to enroll or will be disenrolled from spring 2022 classes. They also can’t live in residence halls starting on Jan. 1.

For unvaccinated University faculty and staff, the vaccine mandate policy said they are subject to “disciplinary action.” This can include loss of electronic resources as well as termination of employment.

While some students are on board with the mandate, which followed in the footsteps of other colleges and universities across the country, some, like Clair Nincke, wished it had been implemented before the fall semester began.

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“While I wish that a mandate could have been enacted for this semester, I trusted that my fellow Pitt students would get vaccinated before campus,” Nincke, a junior economics and psychology major, said. “I hoped that the policies implemented by Pitt towards non-vaccinated students, faculty and staff would encourage them to get vaccinated.”

A University spokesperson said Pitt chose Dec. 6 as the implementation date for the vaccine mandate to allow enough time to prepare for the spring term, and to work with students to complete the vaccination process.

“Dec. 6 was chosen as the start of the vaccine mandate to allow time to make necessary changes to enrollment, housing or employment statuses for the start of the new term,” the spokesperson said. “We will also use this time to work with those individuals who have started the process to become compliant by Dec. 6 but need additional time to complete the process.”

Faculty, staff and students can request an exemption from the vaccine requirement based on medical, religious or moral reasons. Medical exemptions require a doctor’s signature, and religious or moral exemptions require a notarized attestation. Those seeking an exemption must submit forms to the Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion for vetting. If approved, these individuals will still be subjected to additional mitigation measures, such as routine COVID-19 testing.

According to a University spokesperson, as of Nov. 19, OEDI received a total of 935 submissions, with 896 of those requests accepted and four contacted for clarification or further information. The spokesperson said Pitt currently has no definitive expectation for the number of exemptions.

“The University continues to strongly encourage all members of our community to be vaccinated and expects our overall vaccination rate to continue to increase,” the spokesperson said. 

The spokesperson added that, throughout December, Pitt will continue to “[work] with those who wish to come into compliance” and final decisions regarding compliance to the vaccine mandate — including employee status and student disenrollment — will be made in early January. The University will report compliance numbers in early January. 

Although there is an exemption option, Nincke said she was not concerned about possible pushback from the vaccine mandate.

“Knowing the general attitudes of the student body, I knew that the mandate would be generally accepted and appreciated,” Nincke said.

The vaccine mandate policy said the “most successful and sustainable” way to keep the Pitt community safe is vaccination. More than 90% of the Pitt community, including students, faculty and staff, are currently vaccinated.

Alyssa Stouch, a junior neuroscience major, said this high vaccination rate along with Pitt’s COVID-19 mitigation guidelines made campus feel safer. While she supports the mandate, she said she understands why Pitt initially made getting vaccinated optional.

“As much as I wish everyone would get the vaccine, I understand why people having the choice was the initial position,” Stouch said. “I personally have felt safe being fully vaccinated and knowing masks are required in all University buildings.”

But with the Omicron variant spreading in the U.S. and rising COVID-19 cases on campus, she said the mandate is a good move to keep the Pitt community safe.

“Now that cases have been going up, I feel that a vaccine mandate is necessary for the health and well-being of Pitt students, staff and faculty,” Stouch said.

With fall semester quickly coming to a close, Nincke is also in favor of Pitt’s mandate in light of the changing conditions surrounding COVID-19.

“A fully vaccinated student body makes me feel safe and hopeful for a return to normalcy,” Nincke said. “Hopefully, classes and student life will become less restrictive as a result of the mandate.”