Westminster College in Salt Lake City will require students and staff get vaccinated

It will be the only institution of higher education in Utah to do so.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Westminster College in Salt Lake City as pictured on Saturday Sept. 29, 2018. The school will be the only college or university in the state to require that students and staff get the COVID-19 vaccine for the 2021-2022 school year.

Westminster College will require that its students and staff get vaccinated against COVID-19 this fall.

That will make the private school in east Salt Lake City the only college or university in the state to mandate the vaccine for the 2021-22 school year.

In an announcement on social media and in an email to campus Thursday, the school said all faculty and staff — including those who are adjunct or work part time — along with students need to be fully vaccinated by Oct. 15. Westminster noted it will accept only “legally required exemptions” to immunization, such as for medical or religious reasons.

The school is also requiring masks be worn in all shared indoor spaces on campus, which is consistent with guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as the more contagious delta variant surges across the country and state. That mandate also sets the college apart.

The Utah Legislature has ruled that no public K-12 school, college or university is allowed to require masks or vaccines.

Because Westminster is a private college, though, it doesn’t have to follow that edict. The other private institution in the state, Brigham Young University, owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, is not following suit. BYU in Provo will not require masks or vaccinations for students to attend. It will be requiring only that students answer a questionnaire about whether they have been immunized against the coronavirus before they can sign up for fall classes.

At Westminster, students will be required to fill out a form, sent by email, confirming they have been vaccinated to continue attending classes in person. “If you have not been vaccinated, we will continue to follow up so that you can resubmit the form once vaccinated,” the message sent Thursday says.

The school is planning for a return to face-to-face learning this fall, saying that is what works best for students’ education.

“We believe that the unique Westminster learning environment is best experienced in community with other learners,” the email to students and staff reads. But, the school notes on its website, “the college’s ability to create a safe and healthy campus” must be a community effort.

The school notes that it came to its decision to require the vaccine — and the timing of October — because the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine is expected to get full approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration by early next month.

That will give students and staff “up to six weeks to be fully vaccinated by Oct. 15,” Westminster notes in the announcement. And it provides a list of ways to get the shot. Staff, too, the school said, will be able to use paid work hours to get the immunization.

The school is also encouraging that students and staff get regularly tested for COVID-19 throughout the year, even with the vaccine.

Though the college is the only in Utah to require vaccines for attendance, others nationwide have already done so. That includes private schools, such as Brown University and Duke University, as well as public systems, including California State University, the country’s largest four-year public university, and Michigan State University.