Student and employee vaccinations

Illustration by Kaela MacLaughlin
More than a year into the discovery of COVID-19, a new semester begins after vaccines are widely available to the public.

By Isabella Paredes

Staff Writer

Higher education institutions in Vermont have taken the initiative to require COVID-19 vaccinations for students. 98.2 percent of students at St. Michael’s College provided evidence of vaccination, according to President Lorraine Sterritt in an email.

The United States hit 42 million COVID-19 cases as of Sept. 20, 2021, according to the CDC. 181 million people have been fully vaccinated nationwide. Vermont accounts for 445,100 of these vaccinations. According to the Vermont Department of Health, 87.2 percent of Vermonters 12 and older have received at least one dose of the vaccine. This makes Vermont the state with the highest percentage of its population fully vaccinated in the country.

In Gov. Scott’s weekly press briefing on Sept. 14, Michael Pieciak, commissioner of the Vermont Department of Financial Regulation, discussed the impact of vaccinations on higher education campuses. Chittenden County, where St. Michael’s College and other institutions are located, reported a higher number of cases than last week. “For these three weeks of school, the cases are much lower than what we experienced in the spring of 2021,” he said.  According to Pieciak, the high vaccination rates across campuses are making a big difference.

The University of Vermont required all entering or returning students to be fully vaccinated this fall, according to the college website. Champlain College required students to upload their COVID-19 vaccination records online.

Without proof of vaccination or exemption status, Norwich University students are not permitted on campus, in residence halls, or in classes. To be permitted on campus, students must agree to vaccination or petition for a medical or religious exemption, according to their website.

Earlier this month, President Joe Biden announced new initiatives about COVID-19 vaccine requirements. The Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is developing a rule that will require all employers with 100 or more employees to ensure their workforce is fully vaccinated, or require any workers who remain unvaccinated to produce a negative test result on a weekly basis according to the official White House website. To implement this requirement, OSHA will issue an Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS).

At St. Michael’s College, all employees are required to inform Human Resources of their vaccination status, President Sterritt explained.

Human Resources Generalist Cameron Farnsworth indicated that 446 out of 454 active St. Michael’s employees (excluding student employees) submitted Vaccination Attestation responses.

President Sterritt said that the school is still in the process of collating and collecting employee vaccination data. As of Sept. 13, 98 percent of employees who had submitted their information are vaccinated. “When the ETS is issued, we will enact it for the small number of employees who are currently unvaccinated,” she said.

Despite the high vaccination rates on campus, Patricia Siplon, professor of political science and director of public health, reinforced the importance of taking other precautionary measures. She believes that a high vaccination rate is a foundational level of safety, but is not exclusively the only thing a community can do to stay safe. “It is very important to keep in mind that it is perhaps the best mitigation step that we can take, but at the same time is not the only mitigation step we can take,” she said. According to Siplon, mask compliance is important.

Siplon also highlighted the importance of being aware of rising cases and hospitalizations in Vermont. “Some tools are no longer mandatory, but that does not mean we should stop using them,” she said. “Employees go home every night, students leave campus and then come back.”

As vaccination rates rise, people are slowly going back to their pre-pandemic lifestyles. “As science tells us, vaccinations help with symptoms,” said Dawn Ellinwood, vice president for student affairs and dean of students. “It allows students, faculty, and staff to have a different experience on campus,” she said.

Ellinwood highlighted differences from last year, when COVID-19 vaccines were not available to the general public, whereas now the campus is mostly vaccinated. “Just the fact that we have athletic teams is a big difference. Adventure sports are out and running. It’s very different from last year,” she said.

Ellinwood also discussed the shift to in-person classes this semester. “Most classes are in person now, and we know that for most people, it is a better way of learning. That is a big change,”  she said.

Members of the College community expressed their opinions on the high vaccination rates. “I believe that a high percentage of the people I work here with and students are vaccinated so I feel safer,” said Robert DiMasi, Alliot dining hall supervisor.

Students also shared their thoughts on the school’s high vaccination rates. “As an international student, I can say that I feel safer here because of the high rate of vaccinated people. Back at home, only people [aged] 35 and above could get the vaccine,” said Walter Ortiz ‘25, Peruvian student at St. Michael’s.  

Though most of the campus is vaccinated, Ellinwood stressed the importance of monitoring symptoms. “Whether you’re vaccinated or not, if you have symptoms, please go be checked at Bergeron Wellness Center,” she said.

She also highlighted the importance of caring for the community. “As much as we take care of ourselves, this is about the health and wellness of all our community: students, staff, and faculty,” she said.