Mississippi public universities nix staff vaccine mandates

December 10, 2021 GMT

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Mississippi public universities are withdrawing policies requiring employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19 after an injunction from a federal judge prohibiting the Biden administration from enforcing its vaccination mandate for federal contractors.

Spokespersons for the University of Mississippi, Mississippi State University, University of Southern Mississippi and Jackson State University told The Associated Press on Friday the schools have halted efforts to require employee vaccinations.

The state’s other four universities — Mississippi University for Women, Alcorn State University, Delta State University and Mississippi Valley State University — never mandated vaccinations for employees because they are not considered covered federal contractors under President Joe Biden’s order, Mississippi Valley State University spokesperson Donell Maxie said.

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In a letter to employees announcing the suspension of the University of Mississippi’s employee vaccine mandate Wednesday, Chancellor Glenn Boyce thanked the thousands of workers who “mobilized quickly” to submit their vaccination cards or exemption requests for review before the Jan. 4 deadline. He said the university still encourages all employees be vaccinated.

“While this action stays the mandate, the benefits of getting vaccinated are clear,” he wrote.

He said the university will monitor any additional developments in the law, including any appeal of the Georgia decision and other court cases related to the vaccination mandate.

“As courts make their rulings, this situation could change,” Boyce wrote. “If the mandate is reinstated by a court, we will adjust our efforts accordingly.”

In their messages to staff this week, Mississippi State University and the University of Southern Mississippi officials said they planned to keep their vaccination portals open so employees could submit proof of vaccination if they wish.

The University of Mississippi Medical Center’s vaccination mandate will remain in effect.

Biden’s Sept. 9 executive order required employees who do work connected to federal contracts be vaccinated unless they qualify for a medical, disability or religious exemption. The order stated contractors must be vaccinated by Dec. 8. That deadline was later extended to Jan. 4 to give workers more time to comply.

The Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning board of trustees reluctantly voted to enforce the order Oct. 25 as long as the order was not stayed, delayed or revoked.

Mississippi universities have approximately 120 federal contracts totaling at least $271 million.

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The vote was a reversal from a previous decision in September by the board to prohibit public universities from requiring COVID-19 vaccinations unless students or employees work in a clinical setting, like at the University of Mississippi Medical Center.

On Tuesday. U.S. District Court Judge R. Stan Baker, in Augusta, Georgia, issued a stay to bar enforcement of the mandate nationwide.

The order came in response to a lawsuit from several contractors and seven states -- Alabama, Georgia, Idaho, Kansas, South Carolina, Utah and West Virginia. It applies across the U.S. because one of those challenging the order is the trade group Associated Builders and Contractors Inc., whose members do business nationwide.

Judge Baker found that the states are likely to succeed in their claim that Biden exceeded authorization from Congress when he issued the requirement in September. ___

Leah Willingham is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.

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Follow AP’s coverage of the pandemic at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic.