Valley universities report changes on vaccine mandates

James Madison University has reported changes to their vaccine policies.
James Madison University has reported changes to their vaccine policies.(WHSV)
Published: Jan. 18, 2022 at 6:25 PM EST
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HARRISONBURG, Va. (WHSV) - Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin’s first executive orders and executive directives have local colleges and universities making changes to their employee vaccination policies.

James Madison University (JMU) recently announced the changes on their website.

“In response to updated guidance received from the office of the governor, James Madison University is no longer requiring for employees to receive the vaccination, report their vaccination status or undergo the weekly screening testing that had been taking place on campus,” said Mary-Hope Vass, spokesperson for James Madison University.

In an email, Blue Ridge Community College (BRCC) reported the same changes.

“Starting next Monday, per the executive order, BRCC employees will no longer be required to be vaccinated or report their vaccination status. There will also be no further mandatory testing,” officials said.

Vass said they still encourage members of the campus community to get vaccinated, and they will continue to host vaccination clinics.

“We do still want to emphasize that we’re in a much different place now than we were in the fall when we started back this semester, and our employees and our students have done an incredible job at getting vaccinated,” Vass said.

She said about 93% of JMU students are vaccinated, along with about 90.4% of faculty and staff.

Some members of the campus community were frustrated when they got the email about the changing guidance.

“It seems to me that if JMU’s hands are tied legally, the very least the administration could indicate that this was a decision they had no control over and that they understand how faculty and staff feel when seeing this decision behind handed down to them,” said Alan Levinovitz, Associate Professor of Religious Studies with JMU.

Levinovitz said he’d like some clarification and transparency in the decision.

“I’m in contact with people at George Mason, UVA, and so I know that not all schools are handling this the same way. Ok. We deserve to know why our university is handling it the way it does,” said Levinovitz.

He worries these kinds of choices lead to more vaccine refusal and hesitancy.

“One of the main reasons people avoid vaccines is because their trust in institutional authority has been destroyed because of a lack on the part of pharmaceutical companies, because of a lack of transparency on the part of governments,” he said. “Now, here we are with institutions that are not being transparent about the rules that they are making for faculty and staff, and it is precisely that lack of transparency that doesn’t just contribute to vaccine refusal, it contributes to the erosion of trust in authority in general.”

Levinovitz ended with a message for other people who are frustrated with changing guidance.

“When we’re trying to communicate with people who have done things that are out of line with how we think the pandemic should be addressed, make sure always to treat them with love and kindness, and understand that even if they think different of you, it’s not because they’re bad, it’s either because they made a mistake, don’t understand something fully or you disagree on the facts,” he said.

Eastern Mennonite University isn’t reporting any changes. They do not require faculty to be vaccinated, but they encourage it. Bridgewater College said their requirements are the same: faculty and staff should be vaccinated or provide an exemption.

Mary Baldwin said they’re now asking everyone to get their booster shots, too.

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