The 1,000 students, faculty and staff milling about Menlo College in Atherton have one thing in common: Nearly all are fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
Officials from the private four-year Atherton college reported this week that, aside from four medical and religious exemptions, 100% of their community was inoculated when they stepped on campus four weeks ago, according to a Monday, Sept. 13, press release.
Community members needed to demonstrate "sincere and deeply held religious beliefs" and cite sacred texts and religious authorities that prohibit vaccination to receive a religious exemption. Only one member of the community was granted a religious exemption, noted Vice President Angela Schmiede, who has served as chair of the school's pandemic planning team, in an email.
"Few other communities, if any, can boast a 100% vaccination rate. That we reached our goal shows that Menlo students and employees all understand the importance of keeping our campus, and our larger community, as safe as possible," said Menlo College President Steven Weiner in a statement. The school shut down in March 2020 due to the pandemic and began a phased reopening over the succeeding months.
The school set out on a vaccination campaign in April, when it announced that it would require proof of vaccination for all community members by the start of the fall semester — ahead of Stanford University and the University of California system. Once the FDA gave Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine full approval, the school made vaccination mandatory for all staff, faculty, students and contractors — including security staff, dining hall staff and ASL interpreters, Schmiede said.
Student Body President Mia Shuman said the college promoted vaccinations by asking students to post on social media when they got their shots. The school also called students who didn't submit their proof of vaccination to check in. Shuman recorded a video, which was posted on the school's Instagram page, explaining why she decided to receive the vaccine.
Shuman, a senior, said she was not surprised Menlo College was able to achieve this milestone, as the community is "tight knit" and everyone wants to "take care of each other." Still, in the larger context of the U.S., where only a little over half of Americans overall are vaccinated, it is impressive, she said.
"The majority of our community wanted nothing more than to reclaim the familiar, in-person experience that is the hallmark of our college, which had been missing for the last 18 months," Weiner said in his statement. "It has been a joy to see students and faculty back in the classroom, our student-athletes back in competition, and more broadly, the Menlo College family safely back together on our beautiful campus."
Colleges have the legal authority to require proof of vaccination for students they already mandate that students be vaccinated against measles, mumps and rubella, meningitis, and other vaccine-preventable communicable diseases.
Last spring, about 250 students were living in dorms on campus in residence hall pods and 100 would come onto campus for athletic training, Schmiede said. Some students living on campus needed emergency housing, such as those who didn't have a safe or productive place to engage in online learning, and international students who would face difficult time differences if they did distance learning in their home countries, she said. School officials said there was only a 0.1% positivity rate among the nearly 9,000 COVID-19 tests taken during that semester.
There are two active COVID-19 cases; both are commuter students isolating off campus, Schmiede said. Over the past month, the school has had nine positive cases, five of which were asymptomatic cases that were detected through testing on campus.
"Providing testing is helping us maintain very low transmission on campus, Schmiede said.
The few who are unvaccinated are required to test twice weekly, and all student athletes must also undergo regular testing for the virus. Fully vaccinated visitors are also invited to attend Menlo athletics competitions, provided they demonstrate proof of vaccination.
Antigen self-tests are offered weekly to vaccinated staff and students for free.
Stanford is requiring students to take COVID-19 tests weekly, regardless of their vaccination status. The Associated Students of Stanford University (ASSU)
reported that 98% of respondents who possibly would be on campus during the summer self-reported that they would be fully vaccinated by June 12.
according to the school's data dashboard, which includes data about vaccinations self-reported and those administered by University Health Service. Faculty and staff have a lower vaccination rate of 90%, according to the dashboard.
The San Mateo County Community College District is requiring students to be fully vaccinated to return to campus. Cañada College in Woodside, which is part of the district, has not reported its student vaccination rates.