More than 1,500 combined students, faculty and staff at Oregon State University-Cascades will be required to receive the COVID-19 vaccine before returning to the Bend campus this fall.
But while some students, including the student body president, say they’re happy that the university is encouraging vaccinations, they do have a few quibbles.
“I think for one, it would be nice to get back to a somewhat normal life, and that’s the gateway to do it,” said OSU-Cascades sophomore Quentin Comus, who said he has received the vaccine. “But it shuts doors for those who might be skeptical about it for any reason.”
Taha Elwafati — a fellow sophomore at OSU-Cascades and the president of Associated Students of Cascades Campus — said he was fine with mandating vaccines, but he hoped exemptions would be allowed for those with medical or personal concerns. He also hoped the university wouldn’t hide the fact that some people do get side effects from the COVID-19 vaccine.
“When you’re (saying) it’s ‘too good to be true,’ I think that’s where it’s off-putting to people who do have general concerns about medication in general, or vaccines,” said Elwafati, who is fully vaccinated.
Yong Bakos, an instructor and program lead of OSU-Cascades’ computer science department, also said he hopes the university will accommodate those with legitimate exemptions. But as a whole, he’s happy with mandating vaccinations for students and staff.
“Requiring the vaccine is surprising, but positive,” said Bakos, who is fully vaccinated. “If we want to keep our schools open, if we want to keep the learning experience in the classroom, then it’s important to make decisions based on that collective good.”
Steve Clark, spokesperson for Oregon State University, said the university will honor legitimate exemptions. Although there aren’t details yet, university leaders are brainstorming how to ensure all students and staff on OSU’s campuses either have been vaccinated, or can prove an exemption, he said.
“Throughout the fall term, and leading up to winter term, we will establish checkpoints with students, faculty and staff regarding either their compliance in being vaccinated, or evidence of an exemption,” Clark said.
The vaccine mandate will apply to Beaver student-athletes and coaches, too, Clark said. For the moment, however, it will not apply to visitors or students visiting campus events, such as football games in Corvallis, he said.
A major reason why OSU leaders decided to mandate vaccines is to help increase COVID-19 immunity in Oregon, Clark said.
As of Monday, about 43% of Oregonians had received at least one vaccine dose, according to the Oregon Health Authority. Deschutes and Benton counties, where OSU’s main campuses are located, have higher-than-average vaccination rates, with 48% and 55% of their respective populations receiving at least one dose.
However, those numbers plummet for younger, college-aged residents. Only 11.5% of Oregonians in their 20s have received the vaccine, according to state data. That number is much higher in Deschutes County, where over 40% of residents in their 20s have received at least one vaccine.
To make receiving the vaccine easier for local students and staff, OSU-Cascades and Central Oregon Community College will be hosting vaccine clinics starting next week, in collaboration with Deschutes County Health Services.
However, despite partnering with OSU-Cascades on the vaccine clinics, COCC does not plan to mandate vaccination for students and staff this fall, said college spokesperson Jenn Kovitz.
This is for a couple reasons, she said. Some COCC students live in rural parts of Central Oregon, where vaccines are harder to access. And other students work full time, also decreasing availability, Kovitz said.
“Our student population is very different than OSU-Cascades’,” Kovitz said. “For reasons of equity and access to higher education, we’ve made the decision we’re going to strongly recommend, not require (vaccines).”
OSU is not alone in mandating vaccines this fall: Western Oregon and Portland State universities will also require vaccinations, according to those institutions’ websites. The University of Washington and Washington State University recently announced the same.
However, the University of Oregon is not requiring the COVID-19 vaccination for students, although the university highly recommends it, according to its website.
Representatives from Eastern Oregon and Southern Oregon universities, along with the Oregon Institute of Technology, all said their respective institutions were still deciding whether or not to mandate vaccinations this fall.