While hundreds of universities around the country are requiring students and employees to get vaccinated against COVID-19, President Gordon Gee said getting people vaccinated is a matter of common sense, not of force.
“But I hope that we don't ever come to the point in which we are having to mandate anything other than common sense,” Gee said in an exclusive interview with the Daily Athenaeum. “I always believe in mandating common sense.”
And while the University will yet not be mandating the vaccine for students and staff, Gee had direct words for the unvaccinated.
“Well, first of all, my message to everyone is get the damn shot,” he said. “I mean, it's pretty simple to me. I cannot understand why anyone would not get this vaccine.”
Following the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) full approval of the Pfizer vaccine Monday — a point at which WVU had previously said it would reevaluate any possible vaccine requirements — the University chose not to mandate vaccination, saying in a statement that it will continue to ‘strongly encourage’ people to get the shot.
Gee pointed to a recent increase in student and employee vaccination numbers as a reason not to mandate the vaccine.
“I’m not sure the mandates really work,” he said. “I think that the community and human choice is more important. What we do, though, and the reason I say that our numbers are reflecting that is the fact that our vaccination numbers are going way up.”
As of Wednesday, just over 70% of students and employees have been fully vaccinated.
The end of last week marked the deadline for unvaccinated students and employees returning to campus to get tested. As of Wednesday, just under 1,500 students had not completed COVID-19 testing.
Students who fail to do so by the end of the week will be referred to Student Conduct.
While WVU has not mandated the vaccine, other universities are rushing to require students and staff to be vaccinated against COVID-19.
Over 750 college campuses have required vaccines of at least some students and employees, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education.
Indiana University issued a vaccine mandate for students earlier this month, despite the absence of the FDA’s full approval.
Eight students attempted to sue Indiana University claiming the mandate infringed on their constitutional rights, but the Supreme Court upheld the decision.
Federal judges ruled in favor of IU, saying the Constitution permitted the University “to pursue reasonable and due process of vaccination in the legitimate interest of public health for its students, faculty and staff.”
Last week, anticipating the Pfizer vaccine’s full approval, a number of universities, including Louisiana State University and the University of Memphis, said a vaccine mandate would be in order following the FDA’s approval.
LSU’s president, William Tate, said he would move “swiftly” to mandate the vaccine for his students and employees once the FDA fully approved the Pfizer vaccine.
WVU Health System is requiring all of its employees to be vaccinated with either Pfizer or Moderna by Oct. 31, following the FDA approval.
“We’re doing this because it is the right thing to do,” said Albert L. Wright Jr., president and CEO of the WVU Health System. “I want WVU Medicine hospitals and clinics to be as safe as possible for our patients and staff. A fully vaccinated workforce will help ensure that safety.”
Wright mentioned an increasing number of his staff who are unvaccinated have been out sick due to COVID.
“This places an unfair burden on our vaccinated staff, our patients and public, all of whom expect us to be able to provide the services they need, when they need them,” he said.