(The Center Square) – The University of Washington has issued an ultimatum to students attending classes this fall: get a COVID-19 vaccination or file an exemption.
The mandate will apply to students attending University of Washington campuses in Seattle, Bothell and Tacoma. Students unable to prove vaccination or those without access to a vaccination site will be offered shots on campus before they can begin classes. Medical, religious and philosophical exemptions will be available for students who choose to opt out.
School officials say they will offer more details on how students registering for the fall quarter can prove vaccination. Students must receive at least one dose before attending classes.
Washington State University decided last month to mandate COVID-19 vaccinations for staff and faculty as well. University of Washington President Ana Mari Cauce says the UW has not made a decision on that front.
"Decisions about vaccine requirements for faculty, academic personnel and staff will be made after further consultation with faculty, academic personnel and staff leadership, and the state," Cauce said in a statement.
The priority deadline for most undergraduates to register for the fall quarter starts the week of May 10. UW officials have urged students to get vaccinated as soon as possible. COVID cases are rising statewide, which could lead to more severe restrictions for several more Washington counties.
COVID outbreaks have been of great concern at the UW. Fraternity houses were ground zero for dozens of cases last fall, spurring special restrictions on Greek life from Gov. Jay Inslee.
Currently, UW students must provide proof of vaccination for diseases such as mumps, measles and meningitis. Personal and philosophical exemptions for K-12 schools student vaccinations were repealed by the state legislature two years ago.
As of last month, everyone in the U.S. aged 16 and older is eligible for a COVID vaccination. On Monday, data from the CDC's COVID Tracker showed about 47% of Washingtonians had received their first dose while another 33% are fully vaccinated.
University of Washington Professor Hugh Spitzer, who teaches constitutional and state law, says the idea is legally sound.
"While we all have a lot of rights, we don't have the right to go bump somebody on their head," Spitzer said. "If you think about infectious disease, if someone is a carrier and they walk by someone and breathe on them, it's the equivalent of thumping them on the head with a baseball bat. You have a right to do whatever you want as long as it doesn't hurt other people."
Colleges around the country have announced similar plans requiring students to provide proof of vaccination. State attorney generals across the U.S. including Mark Herring of Virginia have deemed the mandates legal. Several states have banned proof-of-vaccination requirements in public institutions via executive order or legislation. Those bans would include public universities.
The Washington Department of Health reports that 377,019 COVID cases have been reported statewide since the onset of the pandemic. Another 5,507 people have died from the virus to date.
Fall classes at the University of Washington start on Wednesday, Sep. 29.