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University of Utah, Utah State, Weber State to impose vaccine requirement

Posted at 12:04 PM, Aug 27, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-28 01:09:43-04

SALT LAKE CITY — The University of Utah, Utah State University and Weber State University will impose a COVID-19 vaccine requirement for students.

In an email to students, faculty and staff, the U's senior leadership announced the requirement. FOX 13 first reported earlier Friday the university was planning to impose one, citing sources with knowledge of the situation.

"The University of Utah intends to pursue requiring COVID-19 vaccination for its students. We appreciate this opportunity to collaborate with state leaders as the rates of infection and hospitalization grow throughout Utah," the email said.

"Our expectation is to share detailed plans on the requirement—and the process for requesting an exemption based on health conditions, religious or personal beliefs—with students early next week. Conversations with state leaders continue about a potential vaccine requirement for faculty and staff. Conversations also continue regarding vaccine requirements for University of Utah Health, including hospitals and clinics employees."

The email was signed by U. President Taylor Randall; University Health CEO Michael Good; Dan Reed, the Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs; Lori McDonald, the Vice President for Student Affairs; and Christina Porucznik, President of the Academic Senate.

On Monday, FOX 13 reported senior U of U officials were meeting with Governor Spencer Cox and legislative leaders to discuss a vaccine requirement now that the FDA has granted full approval to the Pfizer vaccine.

The House Majority Caucus met on Thursday behind closed doors. In an interview with FOX 13 afterward, Speaker Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, said the law allowed universities to require the vaccination — so long as they understood Utah law also allowed broad exemptions for religions, medical or personal reasons.

"Now that the FDA has approved the vaccine, or at least the Pfizer vaccine, they could choose to do that," Speaker Wilson said.

Cox, Wilson and Senate President J. Stuart Adams issued a joint statement following Friday's announcement:

“The law allows Utah’s universities to require vaccinations as long as there is a path for students to submit personal exemptions and attend in-person classes. We support this balanced approach and look forward to keeping students, faculty and staff at our colleges and universities safe this year."

Pressure has been mounting, particularly on the University of Utah, for a vaccine mandate. Over 1,000 people have signed on online petition calling for the university to implement a mandate. The petition was organized by Unsafe U, an advocacy group focused on campus safety.

Utah State University told FOX 13 it planned to issue a vaccine requirement for its main campus in Logan and its satellite campuses across the state including Roosevelt, Moab, Price, Brigham City, Tremonton and Blanding. Including Logan, USU has 29 centers and campuses across Utah.

"This would be to have students vaccinated by spring semester, but we’ll require students to get vaccinated during the fall," said Amanda DeRito, a spokesperson for the university's administration.

USU intended to have a vaccine clinic starting next week to ensure students had the ability to get their doses.

"We know that students really want to be face to face, they want to be out enjoying campus they want to be with their friends and all the things that define an Aggie experience. And that really depends on them getting vaccinated," DeRito said.

In a letter to all of Utah's colleges and universities on Friday, the Utah Board of Higher Education appeared to give its blessing to vaccine mandates. Under Utah law, they cannot impose a mask mandate on any of Utah's colleges and universities.

"The Board views vaccinations as an effective method to reduce the spread of COVID-19 and keep our campuses open. As you evaluate the needs of your campus and region, we encourage you to consider requiring COVID-19 vaccinations—free of charge—for your students," Board Chair Harris Simmons wrote.

"Expanding COVID-19 vaccinations among college populations will allow us to keep campuses open for in-person instruction, provide a safer environment for the campus community, and help ensure that our state’s economy remains open and vibrant in the months ahead."

Late Friday, Weber State University confirmed it would be imposing a vaccine requirement.

"Weber State will work on a vaccination requirement to be implemented this fall that will require students to be vaccinated prior to spring semester," WSU said in a statement to FOX 13. "As a USHE institution, we want to do our part to help the state combat increasing rates of infection and hospitalizations. Details about the requirement — and the process — will be shared with students, staff and faculty next week."

Other colleges and universities have not yet decided what to do. Utah Valley University President Astrid Tuminez expressed concerns during the Utah Board of Higher Education's regular meeting about rising COVID-19 cases.

"It’s simply a matter of time. It’s simply a question of if we hit those triggers, where we do have to close classrooms and close buildings," she said.