Dean of Students John Buck said the university is taking COVID-19 precautions seriously and expects everyone to do the same.
Webster University faced a question plaguing many colleges and universities across the nation as the fall semester drew near: Should the university require the COVID-19 vaccine?
In late July, Webster announced its requirement for students, faculty and staff to provide proof of a COVID-19 vaccination by Sept. 10. Students who need to upload proof of vaccination can go to webster.medicatconnect.com.
For John Buck and Jody Spiess, a member of the COVID-19 Task Force on Transition and Adaptability, the requirement is about keeping the community safe.
Spiess, an assistant professor in the nursing department, said Webster did not make decisions based on what other universities were doing. Instead, she said the university was focused on science.
According to Spiess, data from the St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Taskforce highlighted a rise in younger groups contracting COVID-19.
“The community spread was at a level where it just felt unsafe for us to bring students, faculty, staff, everybody together without having any idea of vaccination status,” Spiess said. “It’s always scary and intimidating because you don’t want to make the wrong choice. But for me, what is the safest choice is always the right choice.”
Buck, the dean of students, said the COVID-19 Task Force also considered the FDA approval status and efficacy of the vaccines.
He said Webster listened to public health officials, looked at information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and spoke to people like Spiess.
“We decided that we would require [the vaccine] believing that the authorization to make them permanently approved would be coming soon, and that ended up being the case,” Buck said.
According to Webster University director of public relations Patrick Giblin, over 90% of faculty and staff were fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by Aug. 31.
Spiess said she was encouraged by the percent of staff and faculty who have been fully vaccinated.
At first, Spiess was concerned people would oppose the vaccine requirement. She said most people seem to understand the need to get vaccinated, however.
“That 90% faculty and staff blew my mind,” Spiess said. “So, if we can get – fingers crossed – students to that number, we will be doing really well.”
Buck said he did not know the percentage of students who are vaccinated yet but said over 1,300 students have already uploaded proof of vaccination.
According to Buck, the Sept. 10 deadline would be a good point for the university to figure out the percentage of vaccinated students. At this point, he said Webster could also learn what students it needs to reach out to and remind about the requirement.
“Before we talk about consequences, it’ll take a redoubling of efforts to remind folks to do this and to get it done,” Buck said. “I suspect there are a number of people who go, ‘Oh, crap. I forgot to upload my card,’ and they remember because we reached out to them.”
Buck has also heard from some students who have recently received their first dose of the vaccine and are not yet eligible for the second. He encouraged them to upload their vaccination status and then update the university when they are fully vaccinated.
Along with being in the process of getting vaccinated, students could apply for exemptions because of medical or religious reasons. The deadline to apply for an exemption was Aug. 16.
“Part of managing all this is maintaining the sense of community while we kind of check off these boxes of who has their card turned in and who doesn’t and recognizing that there are folks who may want to get vaccinated but just literally can’t because of a medical reason,” Buck said. “Or they have a very strong faith belief system, and that precludes them from it too.”
For anyone hesitant about receiving the COVID-19 vaccine, Buck encouraged looking at the CDC or St. Louis County’s health department website.
Spiess said people should not get information from the media. Instead, she said the CDC’s website and peer-reviewed research are both reliable sources.
She said people could also talk to their doctors and other local healthcare providers.
“We trust the medical community once we can’t breathe and we need to be put on a ventilator. We want their help,” Spiess said. “Why aren’t we listening to them when they’re trying to tell us how to prevent that?”
Buck said there are multiple locations around the Webster Groves campus where students can get vaccinated. These include the Schnucks pharmacy, Webster Pharmacy, Walgreens and CVS.
Webster is committed to keeping everyone safe, according to Buck. However, he said everyone needs to take COVID-19 seriously.
Overall, Spiess and Buck said they were impressed with how well students are complying with COVID-19 precautions this year.
“We just have to be vigilant and sustain that,” Buck said. “Then we get into the spring and we’ve got a whole new reality that’s closer to where we want to be, but it’s going to take this fall to get us where we [have to] be in it and that’s going to take everyone.”