As the fall semester draws near, many students and employees are left wondering how West Virginia University will distinguish vaccinated individuals from unvaccinated. The short answer—it won’t.
According to University leaders, the verification system will primarily be used to monitor overall vaccination rates among students and employees.
“It’s a privacy issue, and we’re going to rely on the honor system,” said Cris Debord, vice president for Talent and Culture. “We’re not looking to publish a list of who’s vaccinated and who’s not.”
An individual’s vaccination status is protected under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA), which prevents WVU from disclosing “protected health information” without a student or employee’s consent.
According to the privacy rule, the law also ensures “the flow of health information” needed to “protect the public’s health and well-being.” This means students and employees, with the exception of medical staff, will not have access to this information, according to Dr. Jeff Coben, dean of the School of Public Health.
“What we will not be using the vaccine verification system for is to provide a ‘vaccine passport’ or a vaccine identification system at the individual level,” Coben said. “We are not going to be providing what we would consider to be private and protected health information.”
Students and employees are not required to get vaccinated at this time, but this decision, Coben said, will be reassessed upon further FDA approval.
But unvaccinated students and employees can expect to follow similar guidelines to last year's when returning in the fall.
This includes quarantining and routine COVID-19 testing. Coben said unvaccinated individuals will be notified about required testing through email.
Apart from this, the verification system will primarily be used for contact tracing.
As of Tuesday, just over 30% of students and 40% of employees have verified their vaccinations with the University. Vaccines can be verified on the University's return to campus website.
Currently, there is no way for students to know whether or not they have successfully verified their vaccinations, but Erin Newmeyer, executive director for Strategic Initiatives, said the University will begin to “individually communicate” with students in the coming weeks.
“If we have not recorded your verification or if it has not completed itself within the system, then we will be communicating with you individually—letting you know that you still need to go in and complete that verification,” said Newmeyer.
The deadline for verifying vaccinations with the University is Aug. 1.
Therefore, individuals receiving the Moderna vaccine would need to get their first shot no later than July 3—Pfizer by July 11 and Johnson & Johnson by Aug. 1—to be considered fully vaccinated by the deadline.
"You're going to be protected against COVID-19, and you're going to be able to live life much more normally than you have in the course of the last 18 months," Coben said. "So, let's not forget about that tremendous advantage of getting vaccinated."