Board: Public universities cannot require COVID-19 vaccine

Published 8:56 am Wednesday, September 22, 2021

The board that governs Mississippi’s public universities has voted to prohibit schools from requiring COVID-19 vaccines for students and staff, however the University of Mississippi Medical Center’s vaccine policy will stick.

The Mississippi State Department of Health reported 1,557 more cases of COVID-19, 22 deaths, and 103 ongoing outbreaks in long-term care facilities in Mississippi. The state’s totals are 479,326 cases and 9,353 deaths. As of Sept. 21, 1,283,888 persons have been fully vaccinated.

Lafayette County has 29 new COVID-19 cases and one long-term care facility outbreak. There have been no deaths reported.

The county’s totals are 8,193 cases, 137 deaths, 199 long-term care facility outbreaks and 56 long-term care facility deaths.

The Board of Trustees of the Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning took the vote on Friday, said Caron Blanton, communications director for the Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning. At an earlier meeting on Aug. 27, the board voted not to require public university students to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

Board members decided to vote again because there was confusion about whether officials at individual schools could choose to mandate the shots if they wished to, Blanton said.

“Except for clinical settings within institutions, centers, departments, and programs, institutions are directed to refrain from mandating the COVID-19 vaccination as a condition of enrollment or employment,” the new motion passed Friday reads.

The clinical exception means that the policy adopted by the University of Mississippi Medical Center, which already announced that it will require students and staff to be vaccinated against COVID-19 by Nov. 1, will stay in place.

Friday’s meeting took place during the board’s annual retreat away from Jackson. It was not livestreamed, so the public could not hear what was discussed.

During the livestreamed August meeting, nine board members said the vaccine should not be mandated. Many said they support students getting the COVID-19 vaccine, but that shots should be voluntary.

The board’s two physician members, Dr. Alfred McNair Jr. and Dr. Steven Cunningham, were the only two board members who voted to mandate vaccinations.

The University of Mississippi honors the IHL’s decision, yet places great importance on the health of their students, faculty and staff.

​​“The Mississippi State Institutions of Higher Learning Board of Trustees has spoken for the university system on COVID-19 vaccine requirements for employment or enrollment,” said Lisa Stone, the university’s strategic communications director. “At the University of Mississippi, we continue to do the work of getting students, faculty and staff vaccinated by promoting the effectiveness of the vaccines and by providing numerous and easily accessible opportunities to receive vaccinations on campus.” 

The university has scheduled Pfizer vaccination clinics for the remainder of the year. All clinics are walk-up with no appointment needed and will be held in the East Ballroom of the Paul B. Johnson Commons. The vaccines are free and available to everyone 12 and older.

“So far, the university has administered more than 6,000 vaccine doses to students, employees and the community since we began offering vaccines in the Spring 2021 semester,” said Stone.

Mississippi’s public universities already mandate that students be vaccinated against measles, mumps and rubella, according to Institutions of Higher Learning bylaws. Students studying in a health-related field must be vaccinated against hepatitis B.

Some Mississippi cities, including the capital of Jackson, have required workers to be vaccinated against COVID-19. Jackson Mayor Antar Lumumba extended a deadline for city workers to show proof of vaccination until Oct. 15.

The city of Oxford recently reinstated mask mandates requiring masks to be worn in all indoor spaces, unless actively eating or drinking, and at outdoor gatherings where social distancing is not possible.

The extension also applies to contractors and subcontractors who are paid in whole or in part from funds provided under a city contract, WLBT-TV reported.

Those who choose not to provide proof of vaccination must undergo weekly testing at their own expense. Employees who don’t show their vaccination status must also wear masks at all times while at work.

For more information, call the Health Center Pharmacy at 662-915-5279.

More information about pre-vaccination paperwork, off-campus vaccination sites and other vaccination questions is on the university’s vaccination webpage, https://coronavirus.olemiss.edu/vaccination/. For questions, email c19@olemiss.edu.