Removal of personal exemption, FDA approval prompts student to get vaccinated

Students seeking non-medical exemption required to read Vaccine Education Module



Students are required to submit proof of vaccination or an exemption request on the Cougar Health Services portal by Sept. 10.

ALEX MCCOLLUM, Multimedia editor

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration gave full approval to the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine on Monday, resulting in a slimming down of acceptable vaccine exemptions at WSU.

Originally, WSU allowed non-medical exemptions for students, with the plan that once a vaccine had full approval, these exemptions would be removed.

A non-medical exemption could be for personal or religious reasons, said Dr. Sunday Henry, Cougar Health Services interim director of medical services. There are a lot of different reasons a person could apply for a non-medical exemption.

With a medical exemption, a student would need an official note on letterhead from their medical provider with a clear reason why they should be exempt from the vaccine, she said.

Before Pfizer’s FDA approval, WSU required students seeking a non-medical exemption to read through a Vaccine Education Module, Henry said.

This module includes general information on COVID-19, how it spreads, vaccine information, the benefits of getting vaccinated and links to reliable sources, Henry said.

There is a lot of misinformation spreading through social media, and CHS wanted to create an opportunity for people to get informed, she said.

“It’s an opportunity for a person to get information from a trusted source about the vaccine before they make the final decision,” she said.

The process of applying for a non-medical exemption was pretty easy, said sophomore kinesiology major Alaina Stone-Boggs. All she had to do was read through the modules and answer some questions.

She waited about a week after submitting her request to call CHS because her patient portal had not been updated. The portal only said her request was pending. Not knowing if CHS approved the request was frustrating, she said.

“Talking to the person on the phone was super easy and he was super friendly about everything, so it wasn’t too terrible calling and asking,” Stone-Boggs said.

It turned out the patient portal had a technical error and did not show whether her request was compliant or not, she said.

Stone-Boggs was apprehensive about receiving the COVID-19 vaccine before it had full FDA approval. Now that the Pfizer vaccine is fully approved, she plans on getting vaccinated.

“That was the big deal I was waiting for,” she said.

Initially, Stone-Boggs felt frustrated students were required to submit their COVID-19 vaccination records or request an exemption. After considering all the other vaccination records students are required to submit, she understood the requirement better, she said.

Being an unvaccinated student-athlete has also been difficult, she said. Stone-Boggs is a runner on the WSU women’s cross-country team, and she gets tested every day except Sundays. One of her concerns was whether she would be able to travel and participate in larger cross-country events.

There are a lot of steps and precautions for student-athletes, she said. They are always sharing spaces, working out in close quarters and traveling together.

Getting vaccinated is Stone-Boggs’ next step.

“I think it would be easier and better for my future right now,” she said.

After the FDA approval and spending time talking with friends in the medical field, she feels more comfortable getting the vaccine.

CHS updated its vaccine exemption section after the FDA’s approval of the Pfizer vaccine. All exemption requests are temporarily paused, and only medical and religious exemptions are permitted.

WSU employees have also had different deadlines and requirements for submitting vaccination information or exemption requests, Henry said.

The employee deadline was Aug. 23, according to a WSU Insider press release. 

As of Aug. 19, approximately 90 percent of WSU students who have been compliant in submitting their information are fully vaccinated, Henry said.

The deadline to submit either their vaccination record or medical exemption request has been moved up to Sept. 10.