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Assuming the federal Food and Drug Administration approves COVID-19 vaccines, as expected, lifting the emergency approval label, Central Washington University students, faculty and staff will be required to provide proof of COVID-19 vaccination this fall.

This is big news. When operating at full-steam, Central represents about 50% of Ellensburg’s population, which means half the city will be required to be vaccinated by fall. If we’re thinking of reaching 85% vaccination (considered herd immunity) on a community level, that’s a large step in that direction.

But this also is not that big of news. Central students already are required to have some vaccinations (MMR for example) to attend the university. The COVID-19 vaccine would just get added to the list. In other words, the university is not breaking any new ground in requiring students receive a vaccine prior to attending the school.

Central is not alone, either. The University of Washington, Washington State University, Western Washington University and Evergreen State College also announced a vaccine requirement. Eastern Washington University seems intent on carving out a “no vaccine required” niche among the state universities.

In regard to employees, the state can legally require vaccination, but according to information posted on the Municipal Research and Service Center website, both the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Religious Exemptions under the Civil Rights Act of 1964 come into play if a public employee seeks to be exempted from the vaccine requirement.

Whether vaccine will be required in places of employment has been a topic of interest pretty much since the effort to develop a vaccine was launched. A private employer can require vaccination, but it’s yet to be seen how many will require.

Regardless of your viewpoint on mandatory vaccination, there is little doubt Central needs to return to a university focused on the on-campus experience.

Professors and faculty did amazing adjusting on the fly to shift from in-person to online, but Central, at least as it is currently structured, is not an online university.

Central’s niche is it a place to go “away” for college that is not that far away from the West Side homes of the majority of the student population.

CWU is about that giving young people that transition from youth to adulthood with a small-town campus experience.

Even some of its marquee majors — such as music performance — don’t translate that well to online.

Central can offer online instruction but so can many other universities far more geared to online than Central. Central’s advantage of the “on-campus experience” is lost when students are evaluating online higher-ed options.

Having students, staff and faculty vaccinated against COVID-19 is the path back to the campus experience. This community and county depend on a healthy Central. We all have a vested interest in its success.

Even though there was good response to campus COVID vaccine clinics this spring, in general the pace of voluntary vaccinations does not look like it will reach the 85% mark anytime soon.

Some may see this as a bold step, but for the health of Central’s students, staff and bottomline, it was a needed one.

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