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Ohio University’s vaccination requirement by the November 15 deadline is posted in the workspace for West 82 employees. (FILE)

OU not enforcing COVID-19 vaccine mandate for those without vaccine exemptions

Clarification appended.

Students not complying with Ohio University’s vaccine mandate are returning to in-person learning and on-campus living despite previous messaging that students must be vaccinated or have an approved exemption to attend classes and activities and live in residence halls. 

OU President Hugh Sherman reiterated those guidelines in a university-wide email Aug. 31, 2021.

“All students must be vaccinated or granted an exemption in order to participate in any spring semester in-person activities, including face-to-face instruction and residence life, at any location,” the email read.

After the Nov. 15, 2021, vaccination deadline, the university has allowed students and employees who are not vaccinated or do not have an approved exemption to participate in in-person activities. OU accepts exemptions for medical, ethical, moral and religious reasons.

The university also decided non-compliant students and employees would be required to submit a weekly COVID-19 test this semester along with those who have an approved exemption. Additionally, there is a temporary weekly testing requirement for all on-campus students due to the omicron variant.

The percentage of vaccinated students on the Athens campus is about 91% as of Jan. 25. The university approved 829 vaccine exemptions for off-campus students and 476 for on-campus students. There are 188 unvaccinated students without an approved exemption living off campus and 56 living on campus. Non-compliant students make up about 1.5% of the student population.

The percentage of students and employees who are vaccinated across all OU campuses is 88.5%. 73.1% of students and employees at OU’s Chillicothe campus reported their vaccinations, 68.4% at Eastern, 72.5% at Lancaster, 75.1% at Southern and 72.8% at Zanesville.

When asked what the purpose of a vaccine mandate is when it’s not going to be enforced, Gillian Ice, special assistant to the president for public health operations, said the vaccination numbers “speak for themselves.” She said OU and the COVID Operations team will continue to promote vaccines. Carly Leatherwood, a university spokesperson, said that approach is “in line with other public institutions in the state.”

However, a few universities across the country are taking action against unvaccinated students and staff. Xavier University of Louisiana, University of Pittsburgh and the University of Virginia have said they will be unenrolling unvaccinated students who have not submitted exemptions. 

Ice said she considers the vaccine mandate a success because it encouraged many people who were not vaccinated to get the shot.

“What we would not have wanted to do was to withhold the educational services that we are here to provide when we had any other reasonable option,” Leatherwood said in an email.

Summer Howman, a sophomore studying psychology, said she was not aware the mandate was not being enforced but was not surprised to hear it, either.

“They just stated that to appease the public, and then they’re not enforcing it to appease the other side,” Howman said. “They’re not really worried about COVID as much as they’re worried about their image.”

Howman also said she is frustrated because she has taken measures to minimize the spread COVID-19 herself and feels it enables people to disregard COVID-19 safety guidelines. 

“We’ve always needed to be vaccinated to be at school,” she said.

Jack Hillman, a freshman studying psychology, said it’s upsetting the university is not enforcing its original mandate. Hillman also said he is skeptical of the exemption numbers. He believes medical, moral, ethical and religious exemptions are valid, but he’s skeptical as to whether or not every student filled them out genuinely.

“Whether it be convenience or political alignment, people have opinions about the vaccine one way or the other,” Hillman said.

Hillman said he is concerned about attending in-person classes and being exposed to COVID-19 for himself and others.

“I, myself, am fully vaccinated and have the booster, so I feel relatively safe,” he said. “But that’s around one-tenth of Athens campus that isn’t meeting that requirement, and I’m concerned for the well-being of others who might be more at risk to the virus.”

@donovanhunt9

dh322621@ohio.edu

Clarification: A previous version of this article stated that Ice said the university is not enforcing the mandate as originally stated because of the university’s high vaccination rate. When asked about why the university is mandating a vaccine when it’s not going to be enforced, Ice said, “The numbers speak for themselves. There will be people who get exemptions who will not follow the vaccine mandate, but we have over 90% of the campus vaccinated. So, I think that vaccine requirement got a whole lot of people vaccinated.”

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