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Boise State Gave Health Students Little Notice For COVID-19 Vaccine Deadline

A large silver "B" sits in from of Boise State University's administration building
James Dawson
Boise State Public Radio

Boise State University is giving students little to no time to be fully vaccinated against the coronavirus before getting hands-on experience in hospitals and clinics.

While Gov. Brad Little outlawed state agencies – including public colleges and universities – from requiring employees or students to get a COVID-19 vaccine, that didn’t apply to private businesses.

Saint Alphonsus and St. Luke’s health systems announced nearly two weeks ago they were requiring all employees, volunteers, contractors and interns at their Idaho locations to get vaccinated by September. Otherwise, they could be fired, barring exemptions for medical or religious reasons.

Students studying in health-related fields must get several credits of clinical experience as part of a graduation requirement.

Workers at St. Luke’s need to get their first dose by Sept. 1, while those with Saint Al’s must be fully vaccinated by Sept. 21.

They notified the school of the requirement July 8, according to Mike Sharp, Boise State’s director of media relations.

Cathy Masters, head of Boise State’s diagnostic radiology program, sent an email a week later on July 15 to her students who will get hands-on experience in health clinics and hospitals this year.

In it, she tells them they must be fully vaccinated by Aug. 23 when classes begin to ensure they don’t lose their program placement.

“Due to the timing for the 2-step Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, you will need to start the series as early as this weekend to be in compliance,” Masters wrote.

Similar notices went out to other Boise State students in healthcare-related programs, according to Sharp.

“If you choose not to comply, you risk losing your seat in the program,” Masters said in the email. “Due to limited clinical placements, we will not be able to guarantee you an alternate clinical placement if you refuse the vaccination.”

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine requires a 21-day waiting period between the two doses. The Moderna vaccine has a 28-day waiting period before patients can receive their second dose.

Those getting one of the two-shot vaccines aren’t considered fully vaccinated until two weeks after their second dose.

Because of the lag time, no student receiving that email could have complied with Boise State’s vaccination deadline if they chose, or only had access to, the Moderna vaccine.

Students getting the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine would’ve had just four days to meet that requirement.

Distribution of the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine has slowed significantly since federal officials acknowledged the shot can lead to rare health issues, including blood clots and a nervous system condition, though they still recommend taking it. It’s not available in many Idaho communities, according to a federal vaccine locator.

“We do understand that this news may not be what some of you wish to hear, and want you to know that this [is] solely coming from our clinical partners and not Boise State University,” Masters wrote in her email.

But the Aug. 23 vaccination deadline came directly from the university.

“It is standard practice for students in clinical placements to be fully vaccinated prior to the start of the semester,” Sharp said in an email.

“Given the varying deadlines and requirements of our clinical partners, and in an effort to avoid disruptions in placements, the email was sent with a deadline of Aug. 23, the first day of class.”

Sharp declined to arrange an interview with officials at Boise State's College of Health Sciences.

When asked whether it was reasonable to give students such a short – and in some cases impossible – deadline to meet while they're on summer break, Sharp said Boise State is “prepared to assist them to stay on track in their program.”

Further information on how students could apply for medical or religious exemptions will be sent when it’s available, he said.

The move comes after hundreds of people protested the health systems’ requirements, including at the Idaho Capitol and a St. Luke’s location in Meridian.

More than a dozen state lawmakers want the legislature to reconvene in Boise to pass a bill banning vaccine mandates. Senate Republicans last week said they favored having talks with business leaders before adding further regulations to state law.

Speaker Scott Bedke (R-Oakley) could call the House back into session and force the Senate to come along with it, but he said last week he wouldn’t act without a general consensus between the two chambers.

Gov. Little told a crowd in Troy last week that vaccine mandates are “usually best left up to the employer,” according to the Lewiston Tribune.