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Westminster COVID-19 vaccine attestation reliant on honor code system

Sofie Grapuner, junior sociology major and public health minor, studies in Giovale Library in compliance with Westminster College mask policies Sept. 22. All Westminster community members are required to wear masks, vaccinated or not, for the 2021-22 academic year. Photo courtesy of Ella Viesturs.

This story was updated Oct. 4 8:34 p.m. Westminster College requires all students, faculty and staff to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by Oct. 15 for the 2021-22 academic year. 

Westminster community members were asked to complete an attestation form by Aug. 27 disclosing their vaccination status. The form prompts people to answer “yes” or “no” to the statement, “I attest that I have completed the COVID-19 vaccination process more than two weeks ago, and therefore I am considered fully vaccinated under the guidelines issued by the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.]” 

The attestation, although due Aug. 27, is still open for those who may change their mind and decide to get vaccinated, according to Dr. Glenn Smith, dean of students and vice president of student affairs. 

“If tomorrow somebody says, ‘Oh I’m going to get vaccinated after all’ we’re going to honor that,” Smith said. “We’re going to say ‘great,’ and then [give them the opportunity to] change their attestation.”

Addy Gesteland, senior public health major and vice president of the public health club, studies for an anatomy exam in the Meldrum Science Center Sept. 25. Gesteland said she is hopeful that her peers will be honest on their vaccine attestation forms. Photo courtesy of Ella Viesturs.

Attestation Forms and Proof of Vaccination Status

Han Kim, Westminster public health professor and epidemiologist, said it is not possible to simply ask students and employees to upload a photo of their vaccination card without a data storage system that complies with the Health Insurance Portability Accountability Act of 1996.

HIPAA is a federal law that protects medical patients’ health information from being disclosed without their consent, according to the CDC.

It is a very rigorous federal law, according to Kim.

“If we are going to have our own system of keeping track of medical records for all students, we would have to have a HIPAA compliant data system,” Kim said. “That’s something that hospitals have, maybe large universities, but it’s not something that a small institution can quite honestly afford. It’s a big deal to have a system like that.”

Since Westminster does not have a HIPAA compliant data storage system, trusting the community is all the school can do, according to Kim. 

Glenn Smith, dean of students and vice president of student affairs, along with Han Kim, public health professor and epidemiologist, and others, attend their weekly COVID-19 meeting Sept. 22. This working group of about 20 people has been collaborating for almost two years, establishing COVID-19 policies for the Westminster campus and paying close attention to CDC guidelines. Photo courtesy of Ella Viesturs.

“Number one, we want to trust folks,” Kim said. “I think the vast majority of folks will tell the truth and actually say whether they were vaccinated or not. Number two, there are legal ramifications. It is a legal statement. […] There are consequences if you get caught lying.”

Students who do not attest to being vaccinated by Oct. 15 will be asked not to register for the 2022 Spring semester, according to Westminster’s COVID-19 resources webpage.

“It’s a big deal,” Kim said. “Will they lie because of [that consequence?] I’m hoping not. I’m hoping people realize that the vaccine is really protecting yourself and protecting those within the Westminster community. I think most people do care about their roommates, their classmates and the entire community and they will get vaccinated.”

President Beth Dobkin’s cabinet along with Smith, Kim and about 20 others, meet once a week, and have been since the beginning of the pandemic to discuss COVID-19 updates and matters. Everyone from maintenance staff to the provost is represented in these meetings, according to Kim.

Employees who do not attest to being vaccinated will go through a process of disciplinary action for non-compliance, consistent with other college violation policies, according to the COVID-19 resources webpage. 

People who are currently attested to being unvaccinated are asked to undergo COVID-19 testing once a week, according to Smith. 

While Westminster cannot collect and store medical records, they can ask to see proof of vaccination if someone who attested to being vaccinated tests positive, according to Kim. The attestation form prompts people to sign in agreement to this.

Below the attestation statement is a second declaration to sign. It says, “I hereby affirm that I have accurately and truthfully answered the question above. I also understand that Westminster College may request documentation of my vaccination status […] and agree that I will provide such documentation upon request.”

Carleson Hall remains vacant for the 2021-22 academic year to be used solely for COVID-19 testing and isolation space Sept. 23. Students who attest to not being vaccinated are asked to undergo weekly testing. Photo courtesy of Ella Viesturs.

Student Response

Addy Gesteland, a senior public health major and vice president of the public health club, is worried people will be dishonest on their attestation.

“I think [having to submit] proof would influence a lot more students to get vaccinated, over just being able to click a yes or no box,” Gesteland said. “[…] I think that [the current attestation] could lead to some students not being truthful about whether they’re vaccinated.”

Westminster College is requiring everyone to be vaccinated against COVID-19 by Oct. 15. Students who are not vaccinated by this time will be asked not to register for the Spring semester. Graphic courtesy of Ella Viesturs.

College Community Vaccination Status (as of Sept. 23)

88% of employees have signed their attestation

97% of those employees are vaccinated

90% of students have signed their attestation

93% of those students are vaccinated

89% of the Westminster community has signed an attestation

94% of people who attested are vaccinated

Westminster College students and employees were asked to sign an attestation form by Aug. 27, although the form is still open for those who are awaiting doses or change their mind. All data can be found on the Westminster COVID-19 resources page. Graphic courtesy of Ella Viesturs.

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