Vaccines required at all Illinois colleges, minimal change for some local schools

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NORMAL, Ill. (WMBD) — Governor J.B. Pritzker announced Thursday that all students and staff at Illinois colleges and universities must get vaccinated against COVID-19 or submit to mandatory testing.

His announcement comes as many students are already into their first or second weeks of classes for the 2021 fall semester.

At Illinois State University, students were already required to get a vaccine or submit to weekly COVID-19 testing. The school announced its vaccination plans earlier in the summer.

Director of Media Relations at ISU Eric Jome said the governor’s announcement didn’t come as a surprise.

“This really falls in line with what we’ve been doing and certainly helps reinforce the message we’ve been sending out,” Jome said.

Jome said so far, the campus community has been great with the guidelines and not much from Thursday’s announcement will impact ISU faculty or students.

“Hearing this from the governor’s office is an added incentive and added requirement for this as a health and safety measure,” Jome said.

As of Thursday, 68% of the total student population is fully vaccinated according to ISU’s COVID-19 dashboard. Jome said he expects that number to increase over the next few weeks.

“We expect those numbers to continue to rise, and we know people are working on their vaccination status,” Jome said.

At Heartland Community College in Normal, students or staff were not previously required to get the vaccine. Director of Public Information Steve Fast said that’s about to change.

“We’ve been working on ways to develop the infrastructure for the record-keeping for vaccinations for employees and students,” Fast said. “We will advance those plans to meet the governor’s mandate.”

Heartland has been requiring masks indoors for all students and staff since the governor’s early August announcement that Illinois would follow the newest CDC guidelines. Fast said the school has already been offering the non-invasive SHIELD Illinois testing for about 15 months.

“We got it rolling at the end of last semester and it will probably see an increase in availability hours so we can make sure testing is not only available to the unvaccinated, but also for those who are vaccinated who still wish to test,” Fast said.

Fast said students and staff can expect more information to be sent out sometime next week about how this directly impacts them.

As for Illinois Wesleyan, spokesperson John Twork told WMBD via email the university plans to, “comply with the state vaccine mandate for employees and students” and that the school has been urging the campus community to get the shot in the past “several months”.

According to Twork’s email, 81% of students are fully vaccinated and 6% are scheduled to get their vaccine. That’s based on a 97% reply rate.

Staff at Illinois Wesleyan are 95% vaccinated.

Twork also said the school enacted a mandatory vaccine requirement on Monday following full FDA approval of the Pfizer vaccine. Twork said students who remain unvaccinated this fall will continue to test.

Twork said by spring students MUST be vaccinated against the virus to continue enrollment at the school unless they have a medical or religious exemption.

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