TOPEKA, Kan. – Washburn University will likely start fall 2021 with regular, in-person classes in a return to ‘normal,’ after the Shawnee County Health Department updated its vaccine plan to include university faculty and staff, officials announced Friday afternoon.
Washburn personnel will be included as part of the health department’s Phase 2B. Other Shawnee County K-12 educators are also in that group and have mostly received their vaccines, but under the state’s vaccination plan, general higher education staff had been excluded.
“We welcome this news as we prepare to provide a more traditional environment for our students this fall,” said Washburn President Jerry Farley. “We have been able to deliver classes in-person through the spring, but this additional level of protection should allow us to return fully to our traditional campus model.”
For several weeks, higher education administrators and advocates across the state had lobbied the state health department to include higher education in the state’s vaccine plan, citing the urgent need to return students to in-person classes like their K-12 counterparts.
The state in late February had clarified that some higher education personnel, if working in critical, necessarily in-person jobs, could receive the vaccine. Health officials stopped short of a blanket plan for higher education, however.
It wasn’t immediately clear what prompted the change in vaccination policy, but vaccine distribution has ramped up in recent weeks, and COVID-19 transmission rates and hospitalizations have likewise fallen dramatically. Earlier in the week, Johnson and Johnson received approval for its one-shot, relatively more temperature-resistant vaccine, and a partnership brokered by President Joe Biden with Merck means vaccine supply rates should only increase in the coming weeks.
Students will not yet be included in the vaccination efforts, but Biden vowed to vaccinate every American adult by the end of May.
“We continue to encourage everyone on campus to get vaccinated just as soon as it is available to them,” Farley said. “The vaccine is completely voluntary, but we are encouraging it for all faculty and staff who are physically able to take it.
“In the meantime, we continue to get ready for the fall,” he added, “and we will continue to require face masks on campus and are maintaining social distancing as indicated by the CDC and the Shawnee County Department of Health.”