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Sure, Most Local Colleges Require COVID-19 Vaccines But How Are They Tracking Compliance?

One Cerritos College nursing student vaccinates another. Both wear nursing-type clothing and face masks.
Cerritos College nursing students administer the COVID-19 vaccine on themselves.
(Courtesy of Cerritos College)
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As Most Local Colleges Require Vaccines, Tracking Compliance Is Key

The effort by Southern California colleges and universities to require COVID-19 vaccination is affecting millions of students, employees and their families. Nearly all local universities have adopted COVID-19 vaccination requirements by now.

Even with fall semester around the corner, the effort to verify vaccinations — and to have students and employees comply — is far from done.

Verifying and logging proof of COVID-19 vaccination is the latest challenge.

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“The biggest challenge is the information management side of it,” said Treemonisha Smith, director of emergency management and environmental health and safety at Mount Saint Mary’s University in Los Angeles. “For students, they can scan or take a picture of it and upload it to the portal. For employees, it's optional to scan but you have to provide all of the information on your card.”

Mt. St. Mary's University students hold "Go Athenians" and "Weeks of Welcome" signs.
Mount Saint Mary's University students during welcome week, the week of August 23, 2021.
(Courtesy Mount Saint Mary's College)

Showing proof of COVID-19 vaccination is new for employees and students alike, with most local colleges and universities requiring the vaccines for those who come on campus.

Mount Saint Mary’s University, like many other campuses, has had to communicate consequences to employees and students for not filing proof of vaccination. For students, these consequences mean class registrations will be put on hold. For employees, the administration has warned of a 30-day unpaid leave for failing to be vaccinated.

Neither penalty, Smith said, has yet been carried out.

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Universities are relying on technology to process tens of thousands of vaccination documents for those who’ve had their COVID shots, using existing platforms for logging proof of other vaccines — say, measles.

“We look to make sure that it is a legitimate document, that it has the correct date of birth on it, the correct information that would be entered with the vaccine,” said University of Southern California Chief Health Officer Sarah Van Orman.

We look to make sure that it is a legitimate document, that it has the correct date of birth on it, the correct information that would be entered with the vaccine.
— Sarah Van Orman, University of Southern California Chief Health Officer

USC’s student health employees have been scrutinizing digitized Centers for Disease Control and Prevention vaccination cards from across the country and vaccination records from around the world.

Van Orman, a member of the American College Health Association, which is helping colleges carry out their vaccine oversight, said she’s seeing some of the biggest challenges in community colleges. That's because those campuses lack the health and tech infrastructure of larger universities, making it harder to track who’s vaccinated, who’s not, who has asked for a legitimate exemption and who is declining to be vaccinated, she said.

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That doesn’t mean community colleges are slacking in their efforts to combat COVID-19.

“Many of our community college partners have been really on the frontlines with providing clinics to their community, offering vaccines, combating misinformation, creating community forums," Van Orman said.

Many of our community college partners have been really on the frontlines with providing clinics to their community, offering vaccines, combating misinformation, creating community forums.
— Sara Van Orman, USC Chief Health Officer

Colleges and universities, she said, are anchors in their respective communities in the effort to get more people vaccinated.

Campuses Still Pushing Compliance

University of California and California State University campuses announced vaccination requirements months ago.

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“The CSU system has developed a platform for students, faculty and staff to self-certify their vaccination or exemption status with us,” said Jenny Sorensen, associate vice president for facilities planning and management at Cal State San Bernardino.

Students at Los Angeles City College in line for a back to school event on campus.
Students at Los Angeles City College in line for a back to school event on campus.
(Courtesy Los Angeles City College)

Despite the existing platform, getting students and employees to comply with the requirement has been a challenge. So far, about two-thirds of CSU employees have complied und fewer than half of students have done so.

The university system knows that’s too low, so administrators said they’re enticing people with drawings for a free semester of tuition, free campus parking and tickets to Disneyland.

At USC, compliance is higher: 95% of faculty, 98% of staff and 99% of undergraduates have submitted proof of vaccination. But that still leaves hundreds of students and staff non-compliant.

USC’s deadline to submit proof of vaccination was Aug. 1. On Aug. 15, USC forbade people who hadn’t been vaccinated to register for classes. Two weeks ago, students were informed that they’d be suspended if they didn’t comply with the vaccination requirement.

Vaccination rates at Occidental College for employees and students are also in the high 90% range, according to the campus. Administrators hope that number will climb even higher.

“I'm sure over the next couple weeks, there will be heart-to-heart conversations between managers and employees or administrators and students,” said Occidental College Communications Vice President Marty Sharkey, who also chairs the campus COVID-19 operations group.

“It could very well be the case that now that [the COVID vaccine] is FDA approved, people have more confidence in it and we'll see those people be vaccinated,” he said.

What questions do you have about colleges and universities?
Adolfo Guzman-Lopez focuses on the stories of students trying to overcome academic and other challenges to stay in college — with the goal of creating a path to a better life.