Colleges requiring vaccines to comply with federal mandate

  • In this photo taken Wednesday April 6, 2016 students walk past the historic Thompson Hall at the University of New Hampshire in Durham, N.H. The water system serving the University is among more than two dozen in New Hampshire that have exceeded the federal lead standard at least once in the last three years. (AP Photo/Jim Cole) Jim Cole

Monitor staff
Published: 10/26/2021 4:15:03 PM

The remaining five percent of University of New Hampshire faculty and staff who haven’t gotten vaccinated – including student employees – will be required to do so by December 8 or risk losing their jobs. 

A federal vaccination mandate stipulates that any entity that receives federal contracts or works with those who receive federal contracts are covered by this requirement.

“Because UNH has many government contracts, this requirement includes us,” wrote UNH President James Dean in an email to the community. “We now have a more detailed understanding of the implications of this requirement.”

New Hampshire Department of Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut criticized the decision. 

“This pressured overreach requiring the implementation of a vaccine mandate for University employees was unnecessary and unproductive in our efforts to keep our communities safe,” wrote Edelblut. “Institutions of higher education should not be imposing vaccine mandates, but instead should be focusing their efforts on supporting students and staff, improving academic achievements and also allowing employees to decide what works best for their families.”

Edelblut noted that the university’s mitigation efforts during the COVID-19 pandemic have been “incredibly effective” in keeping the campus community safe, without the implementation of a vaccine mandate.

State law prohibits requiring vaccinations as a condition of accessing a public benefit, but that protection does not apply to employment. The University of New Hampshire is not requiring vaccinations for students to attend the university. 

Employees are able to submit a request for medical and religious exemptions. UNH has not announced what will happen to employees who fail to request an exemption or do not receive their vaccination on the Dec 8 deadline.

It is unclear whether or not this requirement will apply to the Manchester millyard or Concord law school campuses, as well as extension sites across the state.

The overwhelming majority of the Durham campus has self-reported that they have been vaccinated. All university community members are required to be tested regardless of their vaccination status. As of October 25, 89.89% of the student body has been vaccinated, and 94.87% of faculty and staff have been vaccinated.  

“The good news is that the overwhelming majority of our university community has already told us that they are vaccinated,” wrote Dean. “So this new requirement affects a relatively small number of employees and student employees.”

Since the pandemic began, UNH has invested millions of dollars into its COVID-19 testing facility, which has been expanded to include long-term care facilities, as well as Keene State College’s testing demands. Students in Durham are tested twice a week if they are unvaccinated, or twice a month if they are vaccinated. Students, employees and visitors have been required to wear masks in most instances, as well as prove compliance with UNH’s testing program through its own Wildcat Pass, which verifies an individual has been tested. 

Due to UNH’s mitigation efforts, students were able to enjoy an in-person campus experience in fall of 2020 and spring of 2021 with a mix of in-person and remote classes. UNH was forced to transition to fully remote work for a three-week period in February during the spring semester due to a sharp uptick in positive tests, which peaked at 506 active cases. Currently, UNH has 43 active cases between its three campuses. 

In Hanover, Dartmouth College had already been requiring that employees who access the school’s facilities be fully vaccinated or have a medical or religious exemption. Now, Dartmouth has expanded its COVID-19 vaccine mandate to include employees working remotely.

“All Dartmouth employees, including those who have been approved for fully remote work, must submit proof of vaccination or be approved for a medical or religious exemption by Dec. 8,” Scot Bemis, Dartmouth’s chief human resources officer, said in an email to employees.

(Material from the Valley News was used in this report.)

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