Faculty, staff and students who don’t get vaccine could face discipline, restrictions

Editor's note: A previous version of this story had incorrect numbers of how many people have not disclosed their vaccination status to Pitt.


On Nov. 1, a day when the worldwide death toll from COVID-19 officially passed 5 million, Pitt announced that it would require all students, faculty and staff to have a vaccine against the disease by Dec. 6, unless they seek an exemption for medical reasons, or because of “sincerely held religious belief or a strong moral or ethical conviction.”

Employees — faculty and staff — who don’t meet the deadline will face disciplinary actions, including loss of access to electronic resources or possible termination, and students will not be eligible to enroll in spring classes or live in the residence halls as of Jan. 1, 2022. 

Robin Kear, University Senate president, said the Senate officers are glad to see Pitt moving forward with the vaccination requirement, which the Senate has advocated for since May when members passed a resolution encouraging the University to require vaccinations for people planning to return to campus.

“Given the severity and spread of COVID-19, I support the decision of the University to require vaccines for students, faculty and staff,” said Kenny Doty, online learning & technology services lead in the Swanson School of Engineering and Staff Council vice president, who was speaking for himself. “These actions being taken by companies and institutions, as well as the recent approval and recommendation of the vaccine for children 5 to 11, are huge steps toward curbing the virus and returning to a sense of normalcy.”

Since August, there have been more than 300 cases of COVID-19 reported among students on the Oakland campus and more than 85 at the regionals, according to Pitt’s COVID-19 Medical Response Office. For employees, there were 152 cases in Pittsburgh and 13 at the regionals. The average number of cases was up slightly in the latest report, released Nov. 4. Last year, case numbers climbed after Halloween, forcing the University to move to the Elevated Risk status and limit the number of in-person classes.

Pitt is joining other public universities, including those in conservative states like Florida and Oklahoma, who fall under President Biden’s Sept. 9 mandate requiring employees of federal contractors to be fully vaccinated by Dec. 8. The Biden administration on Nov. 4 pushed that deadline back to Jan. 4, but Pitt hasn't announced any changes to its deadline. Pitt and other research universities like it have millions of dollars in contracts with federal agencies like the National Institutes of Health and the Science Foundation. 

The federal requirement applies to all employees who work on or “in connection with” a federal contract, including in such functions as billing, legal review or human resources, according to Inside Higher Education. It also applies to other employees on a campus who are not working directly or indirectly on a federal contract unless the employer can “affirmatively determine” they will have no interaction with employees involved in a contract.

Penn State announced in October it would require employees who work at University Park in State College and at eight branch campuses that have federal contracts to be vaccinated. The University has said it will not expand the requirement to students.

Pitt has strongly urged everyone to get COVID-19 vaccinations since before the start of the fall semester, which resulted in more than 93 percent of Pitt students, faculty, and staff disclosing that they are vaccinated. The new requirement will affect approximately 2,250 students, 240 faculty and 700 staff who have not disclosed their vaccination status.

Those who have not been vaccinated have had to get a weekly COVID test to have access to Pitt buildings. But Chancellor Patrick Gallagher, at last month’s Senate Council meeting, said that high-frequency testing of unvaccinated people and “turning our buildings into access control facilities using card readers is not a sustainable approach for the long haul.”

The chancellor previously has said that the cost to the University for testing every unvaccinated person once a week, as well as some randomized testing and for those who are symptomatic, is estimated at $20 million to $50 million. 

Exemption process

Those people who successfully file for an exemption to the vaccine requirement will still have to be tested weekly, a University spokesperson said.

Exemptions will be considered beginning Nov. 8. Forms to request a medical, moral or religious exemption are available on the coronavirus.pitt.edu website. Medical requests must be signed by a health care provider. 

Those seeking a moral or religious exemption must state why that conviction or belief prevents them from being vaccinated, and then have the form notarized before submitting it online to Pitt. Exemption requests will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis by the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. 

This vaccination requirement applies to all full and part-time faculty and staff, including those who have flexible work arrangements that permit them to work remotely 100 percent of the time. All students, undergraduate, graduate and professional, also fall under the requirements, except those enrolled solely in an online program.

For staff who don’t comply with these requirements, disciplinary actions will follow the guidelines in the University’s staff handbooks. Faculty disciplinary actions will be reviewed case by case and per applicable policies and procedures, according to a University spokesperson.

Pitt’s CoVax Vaccination Center on Fifth Avenue is open to the Pitt community and the general public and offers all three approved vaccines, including booster shots. The center accepts both registered appointments or walk-ins. If you have medical questions about vaccine benefits or safety, reach out to cmro@pitt.edu.

Guests, vendors and volunteers on campus are not required to be vaccinated to visit Pitt’s campuses. All people entering Pitt buildings must still wear masks, even if they are vaccinated. Building access is limited to people with Pitt IDs and registered guests. University members can register a guest online.

The city of Pittsburgh also announced on Nov. 1 that it would require all city employees without medical or religious exemptions to be fully vaccinated by Dec. 22, officials announced Monday. Employees are considered to be fully vaccinated two weeks after receiving a second dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine or two weeks after one dose of the single-shot Johnson & Johnson. The rate of COVID-19 cases in the county is 350 to 400 people per day, and the county’s rate of vaccination is around 66 percent, according to city officials. Employees who don’t comply could face unpaid leave or termination, and those with exemptions must get weekly tests.

The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration this week said workers at companies with 100 or more employees will need to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by Jan. 4 or get tested for the virus weekly.

Susan Jones is editor of the University Times. Reach her at suejones@pitt.edu or 724-244-4042.


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