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SLU to Require COVID-19 Vaccine

June 8, 2021

Dear University community members,

A Time for Rejuvenation

Since hosting our 16 joyous, in-person, pre-commencement ceremonies, campus has become markedly quieter and the pace more leisurely. I hope that all faculty, clinicians, and staff are finding time for a well-deserved rest. Students tell me they have begun to settle into the rhythms of their hometown, new jobs, and other adventures.

Thanks to declining rates of COVID 19, we as Missourians and Americans continue to transition back to a more normal life –– gathering with loved ones from whom we have been separated, and remembering friends and family members who we lost due to COVID-19.

At the end of May, Fran and I traveled by plane for the first time since the pandemic hit. We visited our 16-month-old granddaughter in Florida and, for only the third time since her birth, were able to watch her wide blue eyes in joyous discovery. It was sheer joy to be together.

Our work continues

Summer teaching has begun. SLU 101 sessions are introducing our large class of first-year students to our Jesuit identity, as well as our academic and social expectations. Classroom spaces are being readied for our return to normalcy this fall. Clinics and hospitals continue to buzz with activity. And that treasured human dynamic of face-to-face discussion and warm camaraderie for which SLU is so highly regarded is returning — without face masks and social distancing.

You have heard me say throughout the spring semester, a period during which time we hosted nearly 40 vaccination clinics in the Simon Recreation Center, the most certain path to restore on-campus normalcy is for the overwhelming majority of our students, staff and faculty to be vaccinated.

Vaccination requirements for fall semester

As you know, I asked arepresentative working group of 13 faculty, staff and students to assess whether we should require COVID-19 vaccinations or adopt other COVID-19 vaccine policies for students and employees who will be present on our St. Louis campuses this fall, or who will be studying abroad.

Our colleagues on the committee have recommended to me that we require all students, staff, and faculty be fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

Committee members reached this conclusion after having reviewed the vaccination policies of other universities; assessed the more than 1,000 comments from their peers; sought the advice of others outside the working group; and consulted a health ethicist. Through thoughtful dialogue and reflection across a number of meetings they weighed the competing issues of personal autonomy versus an obligation of being men and women for and with others.

Working Group Chair Tricia Austin, Ph.D., interim dean of the Doisy College of Health Sciences, told me that members reflected on our successful fall and spring semesters, and pointed to the rallying power of OneSLU. Together we had accomplished what few thought possible just one year ago.

It is characteristic of the Society of Jesus and SLU to speak in terms of community — to embrace the common purposes and connections that we share when we come together. OneSLU reflects that mindset. Support for one another, encouragement for each other, and being with one another depends upon our trust in one another.

As St. Ignatius said, our “love for one another must show itself in deeds more than just words.” All that we desire for SLU depends upon our sacrificial love for one another. In these unsettled times we express our care — our love — by receiving one of the available COVID-19 vaccines so that all of us can be together safely, free from isolation and anxiety.

It is in that spirit that I am accepting the working group’s recommendations. This means that:

This direction was validated Friday withnew guidance released from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which states that institutes of higher education where all faculty, staff and students are fully vaccinated can return to a normal, full-capacity operation.

Please be patient as we devise our implementation plans

Details as to how we shall implement this recommendation are being considered thoughtfully and carefully. Proof of vaccination and the exemptions process are among the key operational issues to address. Specific timelines are another.

Until those dates are identified, all students should expect that they will need to be fully vaccinated prior to their return to campus in August. Faculty and staff who teach, research, or work on campus will also be required to be fully vaccinated.

As we have asked throughout this pandemic, please be patient as we determine the logistics of implementing the many aspects of our vaccination requirement — and for submitting requests for exemptions.

Please get vaccinated as soon as possible

In the meantime, if you are not yet vaccinated against COVID-19, especially if you are already living or working on campus, please get vaccinated as soon as you can. Vaccines are widely and easily available.

It takes five to six weeks to go from your initial dose of the two-dose Moderna and Pfizer vaccines to being fully vaccinated. If you get the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, you will be fully vaccinated 14 days later. Our international students who have returned home for the summer should seek out a vaccination that has been approved by the World Health Organization. We also intend to have our vaccine clinics up and running.

The start of our fall semester is just 11 weeks away.

I close by asking that you remind yourself of all that we were able to accomplish together throughout the 2020-2021 academic year. It involved many sacrifices of our students, faculty and staff. It required us to not give in to anxieties and fears, and instead follow the best scientific knowledge as it became available. One would be hard pressed to find any university anywhere that did it better than we did.

Let’s do what needs to be done to be able to say the same at this time next year. It begins with getting vaccinated.

With gratitude,

Fred P. Pestello, Ph.D.