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WSU has approved nearly 800 religious and medical exemptions to COVID-19 vaccine mandate

As the vaccine mandate deadline approaches, Washington State University officials reported an estimated 90% of employees are vaccinated.

PULLMAN, Wash. — Editor's note: The above video on changes to vaccine exemptions at WSU was published in August 2021.

Washington State University officials reported Friday nearly 90% of all WSU employees are vaccinated.

Student vaccination rates are even higher as COVID-19 cases have begun to drop dramatically compared to over a year ago, according to the university. Whitman County Public Health reported 526 confirmed COVID-19 cases involving members of the WSU Pullman community from Aug. 30 to Sept. 12 this time last year. 

“Our vaccination rates are high, and we know it’s the path that gets us through this pandemic,” said WSU President Kirk Schulz. “With a critical state deadline approaching for our employees, we’ve sought to work through pockets of hesitancy and uncertainty with compassion and understanding but with a firm commitment to making sure we’re doing everything possible to deliver a robust in-person educational experience.”

Due to Gov. Jay Inslee’s vaccine mandate, all state employees are expected to be fully vaccinated by Oct. 18 or have an approved exemption for documented medical reasons or sincerely held religious beliefs. According to the mandate, those who fail to meet the requirements will be prohibited from engaging in work for the State of Washington, including public universities.

Students were asked to submit proof of vaccination by Sept. 10 or else face being put on hold from enrolling for the upcoming spring semester.

Of the approximately 10,000 full-and part-time WSU employees systemwide, 88% were fully or partially vaccinated as of Oct. 5. Verification efforts are continuing.

For students who have submitted documentation, reported vaccination rates at each of WSU’s five physical campuses are more than 95%. The Pullman and Spokane campuses top the list at 98% each. Most students have either reported their vaccination status or requested an exemption, though percentages vary by campus and are still growing as compliance efforts continue.

More than 1,250 requests for medical and religious exemptions have been made by WSU students, faculty and staff. So far, nearly 800 have been approved and the review process is continuing. Final numbers will be available after Oct. 18.

For employees such as head football coach Nick Rolovich, the exemption requests go through a two-step process. The first is the blind review. Then, if an exemption is approved, the request moves to a separate accommodation review step where a determination is made whether the unvaccinated employee will be able to perform their duties without risking the health and safety of the community.

Nick Rolovich's longtime mentor and legendary coach June Jones told USA Today on Saturday morning that Rolovich has applied for a religious exemption from Governor Inslee's COVID-19 vaccine mandate. According to Jones, Rolovich does not know yet if his exemption has been approved.

More WSU vaccine reports can be found here.