Pitt-Johnstown faculty senate calls for vaccination mandate across system

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Sep. 21—In a 29-10 vote , the faculty senate of the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown passed a resolution urging the Pitt system "to mandate vaccination for COVID-19 for all faculty, staff and students."

"We just hope that as more faculty voices come together as one and say, 'This is the right thing to do,' " associate professor of biology Christine Dahlin said. "We hope that the Pitt system will listen."

She's been a local advocate for requiring vaccinations at the university since before the fall semester began.

Dahlin also penned a petition requesting the same, with the help of her colleagues, that was presented to Pitt-Johnstown President Jem Spectar in late August.

However, no response has been received, she said.

Dahlin called for the resolution that was passed by the faculty senate at its September meeting. The senate meets a few times per semester.

"The intention of this is to encourage the University of Pittsburgh system to make this a safer environment for all of us," she said.

Pitt has been supportive of students, staff and faculty getting one of the COVID-19 vaccines and lists that on the school's website under the novel coronavirus section.

"The university strongly encourages our community members to understand the science behind the vaccines and to get vaccinated as soon as possible," it says. "University members who provide proof of vaccination are exempt from certain mitigation measures, like mandatory testing and shelter-in-place periods."

Dahlin and the others would like to see that support shifted to a mandate similar to the other vaccinations requirements — such as for measles or chicken pox.

"We're amazed a COVID vaccine is not required at this point," the professor said, noting the recent FDA approval of the Pfizer shot.

Jill Henning, another associate professor of biology at the school, said the only way for the pandemic to end "is to get shots in arms."

"The University of Pittsburgh is known for leading the charge in vaccines," she said. "We have since polio. COVID-19 should be no different."

Henning has been outspoken about the mitigation efforts as well.

She assisted Dahlin with the petition, which has accumulated roughly 100 signatures, and answers virus-related questions for The Tribune-Democrat.

Ola Johansson, Pitt-Johnstown professor of geography, said he supports the resolution and requirement.

"There is a decades-long history of universities requiring vaccinations to make sure that the health of all people on campus is protected. This is no different," he said. "In fact, vaccinations are really the only way to truly beat the pandemic and we all must do our part."

UPJ has the lowest vaccination rate of any of the Pitt university campuses with 70% of faculty, staff and students inoculated.

Greensburg's campus reports the highest level at 83% in faculty and staff — but with 69% of students with the shots.

Pitt's main campus lists 82% of faculty, 84% staff and 93% graduate and undergraduate students as having gotten the shots, while the Bradford branch has 75% vaccination rate listed for everyone.

Patty Wharton, UPJ senate president, said the resolution has been shared with the administrators in the "hope that administration will consider implementing a COVID-19 vaccination requirement."

Additionally, the petition was sent to Pitt main in Oakland.

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