Graphic by Ashley Mowreader
Pepperdine issued a COVID-19 vaccine mandate July 9, notifying faculty, students and staff they need to be vaccinated before returning to campus for the fall, with a deadline to provide vaccination status by July 31.
The mandate comes after months of deliberation and feedback from community members and allows for medical, philosophical and religious exemptions. The University Management Committee voted on the mandate July 8, with public notice given to the Pepperdine community July 9.
“The objective is health and safety in our community, while also conducting classroom and co-curricular activities in the way that faculty and students and Pepperdine want to do with our high level of expected excellence,” said Chief Business Officer Nicolle Taylor. “We know the vaccine is critically important to that.”
The mandate requires students, faculty and staff to submit proof of vaccination or an exemption by July 31. The University chose this date to allow for the various start times of Pepperdine’s five schools and account for earlier arrivals, such as in the case of athletes, Taylor said.
To be considered fully vaccinated by the University, an individual must have received and finished a World Health Organization-approved vaccine sequence, which includes Pfizer, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson, Sinopharm and AstraZeneca.
An earlier policy draft only allowed for FDA Emergency Use Authorization vaccines (Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson), but the WHO approval allows international students to be vaccinated prior to returning to campus, Taylor said.
“If an international student can’t access a vaccine, then they can work with the Student Health Center to obtain a vaccine when they come to the U.S.,” Taylor said.
The policy also allows for individuals to start their vaccine sequence and finish it following the July 31 deadline, Taylor said, so long as they demonstrate the initiation of the vaccination process prior to the deadline.
Returning students who do not submit proof of vaccination or an exemption by July 31 will have their fall class registration canceled, according to a July 23 email from Seaver Dean Michael Feltner. New students will not be able to register for fall classes without proof of vaccination or an exemption by July 31.
The vaccine requirement allows for three kinds of exemptions — medical, religious and philosophical, according to the July 9 Public Relations email.
“The policy also recognizes there are those in our community who, after carefully and prayerfully considering how best to balance their medical health and religious or philosophical convictions with their desire to care for their neighbors and our community, have determined they are unable to be vaccinated at this time,” according to the July 9 Public Relations email.
To receive a medical exemption, students, faculty and staff will submit medical documentation from a provider indicating the medical concerns related to the COVID-19 vaccine.
For a religious or philosophical exemption, students will submit their exemption application to the Student Health Center — per the University’s standard vaccine exemption policy, Taylor said — and staff and faculty will submit to Human Resources.
The University will receive exemption applications “in good faith,” not questioning the reasoning beyond a solid application, Taylor said. One example is the COVID-19 vaccines’ FDA emergency use approval; Taylor said some community members do not feel comfortable receiving the vaccine until it is authorized for normal use, which would qualify as a philosophical exemption for vaccination.
Those who qualify for an exemption may be tested for COVID-19 for the duration of the fall semester, Taylor said.
“We want to hear the last bit of LA County guidance to have that as part of our consideration, but the answer is there will be periodic testing for unvaccinated faculty, staff and students under current thinking for the fall semester,” Taylor said.
All students attending International Programs for the fall will be required to be vaccinated with no exemptions. This is due to international travel restrictions, local country guidance and the University’s desire to provide the best experience for study abroad participants, Taylor said.
Planning for the Fall
The University distributed a COVID-19 vaccine notification Google form to the community earlier in the summer and received 8,500 submissions, around 75% of the entire Pepperdine community as of July 21.
As of July 13, 79% of Pepperdine community members are fully vaccinated, 6% started the process of vaccination and 15% are unvaccinated, Taylor said, based on 7,100 responses.
“If historical trends stay true, then that same percentage breakdown would have carried over for this week as well,” Taylor said in a July 21 interview.
The University has future communication planned regarding knowledge of vaccination status, Taylor said, such as faculty knowing students’ vaccination statuses.
“We know there are lots of questions about who and how and when to ask about vaccine status, and the University is aware of those questions and has put together some helpful information that will be distributed soon,” Taylor said.
Pepperdine may also host additional vaccine clinics in the fall based on acquisition of vaccines from the county and state allotments, Taylor said.
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