By SHANNON O. WELLS
Pitt’s Benefits and Welfare Committee approved a permanent vaccination enforcement policy that requires an initial vaccine series against COVID-19 for faculty, staff and students and maintains existing student requirements for other vaccines.
The policy, which the committee approved at its Jan. 19 meeting, says the University “strongly encourages every faculty member, staff member, postdoctoral fellow, and student to remain up to date with the vaccinations appropriate to their position at the University.” If the University determines additional measures are necessary to control a virus or disease on its campuses, “an individual’s failure to disclose that they are up to date could impact that individual’s access privileges.”
The policy, which has been open for comment since last fall, spells out that all full-time, part-time and temporary employees and postdoctoral fellows must submit proof of immunization against COVID-19. It only requires the primary vaccination series of either the two-shot or one-shot regimens of an FDA- or WHO-approved drug. The policy also lists a series of other vaccinations that are required for employees who engage in University activities where exposure to human blood and/or other potentially infectious materials is possible.
“The policy says it’s a primary COVID vaccination series of an FDA- or WHO-authorized or approved vaccine, so that would be the two doses from Moderna or Pfizer,” said Tom Hitter, Pitt’s assistant vice chancellor for policy development and management, who provided an overview of the policy. “The boosters are not required under the policy.”
The policy requires all undergraduate, graduate and professional students to be vaccinated against measles, mumps, rubella and chickenpox, unless they are enrolled solely in online programs.
The vaccination policy committee considered requiring boosters, Hitter said, but noted that boosters tend to be specific to one’s individual circumstances and what boosters they are eligible for under the rules, “and that’s very difficult for us to figure out, so for instance, your demographics and when you got your primary series could impact when you would receive the boosters. That’s difficult on the University to monitor.”
Hitter’s office is working with the registrar’s office, Pitt IT and other offices to have infrastructure in place by sometime in March, “which would allow us to enforce any enrollment requirements on fall 2023,” he said. “That would be enough time before people start to enroll for those classes, so we’re hoping to get that infrastructure in place.”
The policy office also is working out details regarding exemptions.
“The policy allows for exemptions, but we’re working out the process by which people will submit them and what review they’ll go through,” Hitter said. “(We’re) working with student health, which reviews exemption requests for all the immunizations right now, just to kind of really improve their process. They’re already doing it, but we want to make it easier. And some of the lessons learned from exemptions we received for COVID vaccines — what were the headaches we saw in that exemption process — we’re working to smooth those out so they’re ready to go, also by mid-March if this is ultimately approved.”
The Policy Development and Management office is working with Pitt Human Resources, which will serve as a “gatekeeper” to make sure appropriate vaccination requirements, including proof, are submitted, “because they are in charge of the onboarding for all employees,” Hitter said. “So they’d seem like the most logical place to make sure, if you’re a new employee, you’ve met the requirements to work here.”
Responding to a question about why the policy does not require the influenza vaccine, Hitter explained that COVID-19 — as the three-year anniversary of its arrival in the U.S. looms — remains the greater threat.
“COVID … I think it’s the second leading cause of death, or (around) 400 to 500 people are dying of COVID each day. So it’s more of a health concern,” he said. “It’s also under emergency declarations still, so it’s kind of a bit of a different animal. It might later in time move to something closer to flu. But flu is still treated differently than COVID.”
Melissa McGivney, associate dean for community partnerships in the School of Pharmacy, said Pitt is doing well with its inventory of vaccines.
“We actually have really good availability, and actually we have better uptake, I think, on campus of flu vaccine than often the boosters,” she said. “So there’s really pretty good uptake … I think every one of the schools of the Health Sciences does have requirements for flu and COVID boosters, and that’s really because the clinical sites that these students are going to require it. That won’t change with the current policy update. It’s really about health risk.”
In October 2021, Chancellor Patrick Gallagher first announced that Pitt was developing an interim vaccination enforcement policy that would require all members of the University community on all campuses to be either vaccinated against COVID-19 or granted an approved exemption by the beginning of the spring 2022 semester.
The interim policy eventually led Pitt to terminate nine staff members who did not comply.
Find the full draft policy here.
Shannon O. Wells is a writer for the University Times. Reach him at email@example.com.
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