Message to Community Regarding COVID-19 Vaccines

April 25, 2023

Dear Members of the Gonzaga University Community,

In March of 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic forced government officials worldwide to limit or close many workplaces (including universities), none of us had any idea how protracted or complex coping with this international emergency would be. Medical providers were quickly overwhelmed; restaurants and movie theaters were shuttered; travel of all types was limited. Guided by national, state, and regional health experts – and the desire to place community and individual safety at the forefront of our work – members of the GU community adopted and evolved over time what were considered best practices: masking, social distancing, and hygiene protocols; created opportunities for remote and hybrid learning; helped one another through “close contact exposures;” and supported those who became infected through their symptoms. When the mRNA vaccines became available, Gonzaga worked to sponsor vaccine clinics and provide ongoing opportunities for testing and quarantine support. I will always be grateful to all those who worked so tirelessly to keep Gonzaga functioning during the initial months and years of this difficult period.

Recognizing both the State and Federal government’s termination of the emergency phase of the crisis, several weeks ago, I requested the formation of a committee, led by Vice Provost for Student Affairs Kent Porterfield, to review together with colleagues the current status of the COVID situation and make a recommendation whether COVID-19 vaccines should be required (i.e., “mandated”) going forward. Without question, serious illness (including long COVID) and deaths continue to be reported, but at vastly reduced rates compared with the early period of the pandemic. After reviewing the available data (including the latest from health department experts), noting the current widespread availability of not only vaccines but also anti-viral medications (e.g., PAXLOVID), the committee acknowledged that we are in a new reality, that of an “endemic stage” of viral transmission. (Indeed, vaccine manufacturers will likely be perpetually engaged in the work of developing updated vaccines to address new variants as they emerge.) Ultimately, the committee has recommended that we move away from requiring full vaccination, and instead move to strongly recommending full vaccination, a recommendation endorsed by the Spokane Regional Health District (SRHD).

Based upon the information and circumstances as they currently exist, effective May 15, 2023, Gonzaga will no longer require its students, employees, contractors, or volunteers to provide evidence of COVID-19 vaccination. The University will no longer require uploading of vaccine cards to the Medicat (student) or ZagWeb Benefits (employees) portals. Vaccinations and boosters will continue to be strongly recommended, because much evidence suggests that they dramatically reduce the chances of serious illness or death, especially for persons with compromised immune systems. Gonzaga will also continue to work to make COVID-19 vaccines available to members of its community. Ultimately, it is important for each individual to consult with their trusted health provider to determine what is best, given their specific health condition or situation.

Gonzaga University will, however, continue to support individual choice with respect to wearing of masks; furthermore, faculty will be supported by the University with respect to their determination of whether to require mask-wearing in their classrooms, labs, or other academic locations. Proper use of masks continues to be a low-cost method of reducing disease transmission and has in many jurisdictions become far more commonplace. As with other endemic illnesses, faculty may treat COVID-related absences within the context of the attendance policy and need no longer make remote (i.e., Zoom) options available if they would not otherwise do so for other absences. The Office of the Provost will issue updated attendance guidance in advance of the Fall semester.

We anticipate that one of the consequences of the cessation of the federal state of emergency involves inevitable changes in the availability of low- or no-cost COVID tests and vaccines. The University will continue providing COVID vaccinations and testing for students to the extent that these resources remain available. Employees should continue to consult their healthcare providers for COVID-related healthcare support.

Members of the GU Community should be advised that different states and countries continue to have varying requirements regarding COVID-19 vaccines, and that those who are planning to study, travel, or work abroad need to remain informed as to the requirements of the particular country or countries they are traveling to/through. Similarly, students and faculty participating at some clinical and experiential learning sites may be required to be vaccinated as determined by the site. Please note that at this time, CDC still requires International Students (i.e., Non-U.S. citizen, non-U.S. immigrants) to show proof of being fully vaccinated with the primary series of an accepted COVID-19 vaccine before being able to board flight to the United States. Only limited exceptions apply. If this applies to you, please continue to follow CDC Updates.

I again wish to reiterate my thanks to every member of the University community, for your diligent efforts at caring for one another during this extremely challenging period of our history. It is this fundamental commitment to supporting and looking out for one another that has enabled us to maintain a strong community in the face of the pandemic. Let us continue to reflect that ethic of cura personalis as we support one another through the conclusion of this academic year, and beyond.

Sincerely yours,

Thayne M. McCulloh, D.Phil.