Oakland University to mandate COVID-19 vaccine for students, staff

Kim Kozlowski
The Detroit News

Oakland University announced Monday that it will require all students, faculty and staff on campus to get a COVID-19 vaccine, expanding its previous policy that only required students living in dormitories to be vaccinated.

The timing of the announcement comes amid a local and national rise in COVID-19 infection rates and as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has granted full approval for the Pfizer vaccine, OU President Ora Pescovitz wrote in a letter to the campus community.

In an interview with The Detroit News, Pescovitz said that university officials issued the mandate because they are concerned that the campus will not reach a vaccination rate of 85% to 90% through education and vaccine incentives alone, numbers that are needed to reach herd immunity. Classes begin Sept. 2.

"I was concerned we wouldn’t get there fast enough to avoid an outbreak of cases," said Pescovitz. "We have to protect the population and allowing unvaccinated students on campus … it is unsafe."

She said students who take OU classes exclusively online could potentially avoid the mandate.

"It’s not our preference," Pescovitz said. "We strongly encourage everyone to be vaccinated."

New Baltimore resident Ben Stone said he is glad the university has taken the step because his son, Jackson, will be living on campus during his sophomore year studying music education and he wants him to be safe.

"It just makes me feel better knowing they are taking responsible action," said Stone.

Students, staff and faculty who are not vaccinated must get their first shot by Sept. 3 and their second shot, if they choose either the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, by Oct. 1. The school said requests for medical and religious exemptions will be considered and anyone exempted will be required to undergo frequent COVID-19 testing.

On-campus clinics will offer the vaccine for free.

Those who do not follow OU policy will get a warning, and eventually will be disciplined. A policy is being developed.

"We will make sure people understand the reasons for it," Pescovitz said. "At some point, we will have a zero-tolerance."

Earlier this month as the highly contagious delta variant was spreading, OU officials announced a campus mask requirement and $100 incentives for students, faculty and staff who got the vaccine and offered proof to the university. Pescovitz said the university would continue to pay everyone who uploads their vaccine information into the university's portal.

"We just want to know what percent of our population are immunized," she said. "It is so important that we have the accurate data."

Pescovitz noted that OU's announcement dovetailed with the FDA approval of the Pfizer vaccine Monday.

"We realize that would help us with acceptance," Pescovitz said. "The data suggests about a third of vaccine-hesitant individuals would find it acceptable to consider the vaccine once there was a full FDA approval."

OU has been tracking COVID-19 cases and the more infectious nature of the delta strain.

"We have been tracking the dramatic increase in the number of cases, as well as the more infectious nature of the delta strain of the virus. Alarmingly, the 7-day average of cases nationwide has increased 14% to 133,056. From July 28 to Aug. 18, Michigan’s positivity rate increased from 4.74% to 8.74%," Pescovitz said in her letter.

Meadow Brook Hall, on the campus of Oakland University, in Rochester, May 25, 2021. The university, which had previously announced that only students living in dormitories would have to be vaccinated, on Monday said it will require all students, faculty and staff to get a COVID-19 vaccine.

The move makes OU the seventh public university in Michigan to require its entire community to get a vaccine. Also mandating vaccines are Michigan State, Wayne State, Grand Valley State universities and the University of Michigan's campuses in Ann Arbor, Dearborn and Flint.

OU became the first public university to require the vaccine for some students when it announced in April that those living in dorms would need to get vaccinated against COVID-19.