Federal lab in New Mexico pauses vaccine mandate

January 12, 2022 GMT

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — One of the federal government’s national laboratories in New Mexico is pausing a vaccine mandate that was set to go into effect this month.

Sandia National Laboratories had previously issued directives that all employees and subcontractors be fully vaccinated by mid-January. Scott Aeilts, the associate director of mission services at Sandia, told the Albuquerque Journal on Tuesday that the decision had been made to pause enforcement.

The decision comes amid an ongoing lawsuit that was filed by a handful of unvaccinated employees.

Lab officials contend the vaccination requirement was aimed at creating a safe work environment.

The latest data from the New Mexico Department of Health shows the number of reported COVID-19 cases has increased significantly due to the transmissibility of the omicron variant and that vaccinated people made up nearly 40% of new cases over the last four weeks.

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Health officials also noted that most infections have been mild and they expect the omicron wave to peak in the coming weeks. Of those in the hospital, state data shows about 82% are unvaccinated and less than one-quarter of patients are on a ventilator.

President Joe Biden last year issued an order requiring the COVID-19 vaccine for federal workers and contractors. Like Biden’s mandate for large private companies, the requirement for federal workers has faced numerous legal challenges, some of which are pending.

In northern New Mexico, Los Alamos National Laboratory has had a vaccine mandate in effect since October. The lab said Wednesday that all eligible employees are vaccinated, that no changes were expected in the policy and that COVID-19 testing among workers was ongoing.

According to the lab, Los Alamos’ confirmed cases totaled 1,726 as of Friday, with most having recovered. About 40% of employees continue to telework.