July 13, 2021
Dear Students, Faculty, Staff and Administrators:
Over the past several weeks – following the recent announcements of our decision to require students and employees to provide evidence of vaccination, or request medical or religious exemptions – we have received a significant amount of communication regarding this decision, most of which has been positive. We also have seen a significant number of people access the respective (student and employee) portals to submit documentation. I am very gratified by the excellent response to our recent messages, and the large numbers of students, staff, and faculty who have already submitted evidence of their COVID-19 vaccination status. In order to appropriately plan for the Fall, we need all employees and students who are, or plan to be, involved with on-campus programs and operations to complete the vaccine attestation process, and we are asking that the information be submitted by August 6, 2021.
To underscore the importance of knowing the vaccine status of our community members, I want to share some perspective and information with you.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), for the vast majority of individuals, the FDA-authorized vaccines are safe and effective, with temporary side-effects that indicate the body can mount a successful immune response. As with any vaccine, some people may experience more severe reactions. We also know that there are some, fully-vaccinated people who have contracted COVID-19. But serious incidents involving the COVID-19 vaccines remain extremely rare. The evidence is mounting that the vaccines do a very good job at reducing incidence, viral transmission, hospitalizations, and deaths – particularly in the older and more vulnerable members of society.
Transmission of the COVID-19 virus
Over four million people worldwide have thus far died from COVID-19 related infections, 606,000 in the US alone. Over the course of this pandemic, 38 million people in the US have tested positive for COVID-19, with over 2.2 million people having been hospitalized to date. Each and every one of those people was infected by another person with COVID-19. As the new, more contagious Delta variant continues to spread through the U.S., I believe we will see another surge in cases; but this time, there will be an important difference: this surge will disproportionately occur in the unvaccinated or partially-vaccinated members of the population. As more US citizens become vaccinated, nearly all hospitalizations and deaths appear to be occurring among those who are not vaccinated.
It does appear to be the case that COVID-19 infections among younger people have not resulted in the same levels of hospitalizations or deaths in comparison to older people. Having said that, it is the case that thousands of young people between the ages of 18-29 have been hospitalized, several thousand have died, and many have struggled with long-term effects. For a virus whose long-term impact on the circulatory and respiratory systems, the senses, and the brain is still being understood, our goal should be zero cases among all populations.
The Health and Well-being of A Community
For these reasons, the position not only I but most university presidents across the country have taken on behalf of our institutions, is that it is in the best interests of everyone to encourage as many people as possible to be fully vaccinated as a pre-requisite to engaging in the work of learning and living in community this fall. The Gonzaga mission statement begins: “We are an exemplary learning community” and never has the meaning of that word carried more significance than it does today. To live in community presumes that the individual members of that community accept responsibility not only for themselves, but for each other, and the impact that decisions they make will have on other people. The purpose of the vaccine is not only to keep oneself healthy, it is to keep others healthy by reducing the chance we might infect them also.
We all have made many sacrifices over the course of the past year. For those who have an interest in learning more about the impact that COVID-19 had at Gonzaga last academic year, and all that was required to continue doing this work in the face of COVID-19, I am attaching to this message a special report that was created by my colleagues who coordinated our response. The people of Gonzaga – staff, faculty, and students – did a magnificent job keeping the University operational last year, but it was extremely challenging, and very costly. We who lived through this want to move beyond that experience and into a place where the full array of campus experiences is once again available and accessible, and our human resources focused on the learning experience.
As stated previously, we need all employees and students who will be involved with on-campus programs and operations to complete the vaccine attestation process, and we are asking that the information be submitted by August 6, 2021. Students will find the upload portal here and employees will find it through the employee benefits website. An excellent set of FAQs has been developed on the ZagOn website. General questions may also be directed to the Call Center at 509-313-7070.
Our Accountability to Ourselves – and One Another
As a university community, we owe it to one another to keep each other safe, and healthy. It is an ethical responsibility we bear, and it is an obligation each member of our community voluntarily accepts by being a part of the enterprise. As we plan to engage with one another in the on-campus educational project of the Gonzaga experience this fall, we begin by assuming that each member understands and accepts this. We each accept that we bear the responsibility for keeping our classmates, roommates, housemates safe and healthy. We understand that it is unethical to put a colleague, a member of the faculty or staff, at risk. We commit to acting in a way that makes clear our commitment, and our desire to engage safely in the deeply interpersonal experiences that are at the heart of what it means learn and live at Gonzaga University. And, difficult though it may be – if a person decides that these approaches are not aligned with their own beliefs or priorities, we respectfully ask that they not participate.
I have shared with colleagues that when the pandemic first hit, I thought it was an asteroid – but I was wrong: it was a comet. This comet has a long, long tail – we will be living and dealing with COVID-19 for a long time to come. There will be new variants as the virus continues to adapt to our efforts to combat it, for a primary function of viruses is to survive and replicate. It has already cost us so much: Gonzaga students, staff, and faculty members have lost family members, friends and colleagues at other institutions. We have made many adaptations and sacrifices in our personal lives. We have come so far: let’s continue the work of moving beyond this pandemic by breaking the chain of viral transmission. Thank you.
Thayne M. McCulloh, D.Phil.