Ohio University Prepares To Deal With Holdouts As Its Vaccination Deadline Nears

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ATHENS, Ohio (WOUB) — As Ohio University draws closer to its COVID-19 vaccination deadline, the number of vaccinated students and employees has steadily increased.

But just over six weeks out from Nov. 15, the date by which the university said everyone must be fully vaccinated, about 25 percent of students and employees on the Athens campus are either not vaccinated or have not disclosed their vaccination status.

The figure is just under 33 percent for all Ohio University campuses.

The university intends to enforce its mandate, said Dr. Gillian Ice, a professor of social medicine who has been coordinating the university’s pandemic response.

However, that doesn’t mean that come Nov. 16 the unvaccinated will no longer be allowed to set foot on campus.

“What we’re not doing is telling students they can’t finish out the semester,” Ice said.

She said that after the deadline, the university will start calling those who haven’t gotten the shot and remind them of the requirement and help them with any assistance they might need to make it happen.

“When we call people, we’re often able to get them into compliance,” Ice said.

But if that doesn’t work, unvaccinated students will not be allowed to enroll in the spring, unless they are taking only online classes and will not be coming to campus.

Employees who are not vaccinated as of Jan. 10, the start of spring semester, may face discipline.

These two charts show vaccination rates for all Ohio University campuses and for the Athens campus alone.
[Ohio University]
Ice acknowledged that some percentage of students and employees will not get vaccinated under any circumstances and noted that exceptions will be made.

The university is required under federal law to grant exemptions to people who object to the vaccine because of sincerely held religious beliefs or do not want to take it for certain medical reasons. The university also will consider exemption requests based on ethical or moral beliefs.

The Ohio Legislature is considering a bill that would carve out an exemption for natural immunity, which is defined as already having as many COVID-19 antibodies as one would get from a vaccine.

The Republican leadership is trying to put the bill, HB 435, on a fast track, but so far it has not yet come up for a vote.

Requests by Ohio University students and employees for religious, moral or ethical exemptions are reviewed by a committee from the office of University Equity and Civil Rights Compliance.

Requests for medical exemptions are reviewed by the university’s COVID-19 Vaccine Medical Exemption Review Committee.

So far the university has received just over 300 exemption requests, Ice said, and a lot more are expected just before the Nov. 15 deadline.

The university’s vaccination rates, at 74 percent for the Athens campus and 67 percent for all campuses, are already much higher than the statewide and national rates. A little over 58 percent of eligible Ohioans, those age 12 and over, are fully vaccinated and the national rate is around 56 percent.

Among students, the vaccination rate for those living on campus is much higher than those off campus. And among employees, vaccination rates for administrators and faculty are considerably higher than for classified staff.

 Ice said that other universities with mandates have reached vaccination rates as high as 85 to 90 percent, which would “put us in a really good place.”

Meanwhile, the university’s COVID-19 infection numbers are moving in the right direction. The first few weeks of the semester saw the biggest surge in infections the university has seen yet during the pandemic. This was in part because there are more people on campus now than at any other point during the pandemic. The Delta variant, which is much more contagious than the original COVID-19 strain, has also driven the surge.

However, the numbers are now trending down.

Of those who have tested positive, 37 percent are vaccinated, which Ice acknowledged seems alarming. But the number of vaccinated people who have tested positive is just 2 percent of the total number of vaccinated people tested. For the unvaccinated, that number is 7.6 percent. What this means is the unvaccinated are nearly 3.7 times as likely to test positive than the vaccinated, Ice said.

“So the risk is still higher among the unvaccinated by a very large amount,” she said.