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IOWA CITY — Since the Board of Regents three weeks ago directed its public universities to make COVID “vaccination verification and accommodation systems available to all campus employees on a voluntary basis,” 3,426 workers have confirmed they’re vaccinated.
University of Iowa, Iowa State University, and University of Northern Iowa have held numerous on-campus vaccination clinics — which officials said administered tens of thousands of doses — but the 3,400-plus verified workers includes only those who voluntarily uploaded their vaccination card information.
That total represents only a small fraction of the total “non-federal contract paid” workers across the three campuses — which have said little about how they might respond to a White House directive requiring employers with 100-plus workers to either make everyone get vaccinated or be tested weekly.
When asked whether regents have made any decisions on how to proceed with the federal mandate — which had a Jan. 4 deadline for full vaccination but was paused due to legal challenges, including from Iowa — board officials told The Gazette on Wednesday, “We’re still evaluating.”
The board earlier this month authorized regents President Mike Richards to direct the universities to take steps he deems necessary to comply with the federal executive order.
And it adopted a new policy enacting a broad definition of religion for those wanting an exemption from any COVID vaccine employment or mask mandate.
The new board policy carves out exemptions for “a sincerely held religious belief, observance, or practice,” including “any non-theistic moral or ethical belief, observance, or practice which is sincerely held with the strength of a religious view.”
In evaluating next steps related to the federal mandate, Richards on Nov. 10 directed Iowa’s public universities to make vaccination verification and accommodation systems available to workers on a voluntary basis.
- The UI this week reported 2,225 employees have confirmed vaccination by voluntarily uploading their information — about 8 percent of the 29,120 non-federal contract paid UI employees.
- Iowa State reported 1,008 workers confirmed vaccination by volunteering their status — also about 8 percent of the total 13,334 non-federal contract paid ISU employees.
- UNI reported 193 employees have volunteered their vaccination status — just a sliver of the campus’ total non-federal contract paid employees.
Campus officials have shared expectations that many more faculty and staff have been vaccinated.
“Iowa State held several on-campus vaccination clinics this fall and recently partnered with Hy-Vee to host a clinic in November,” ISU spokeswoman Angie Hunt told The Gazette, but noted the university did not upload information on employees who received the vaccine at an on-campus clinic.
“This is a voluntary program, and only employees can upload their vaccination information,” she said.
The UI does have vaccination records on file for 15,355 workers — separate from the new voluntary card-upload system, according to UI spokeswoman Jeneane Beck. And UI Health Care is reporting on its website that 15,557 employees have been fully vaccinated.
Although Richards in his recent directive “strongly encouraged” employees to get vaccinated, he noted workers “are entitled to receive an exemption by submitting written documentation” affirming a sincerely held religious belief observance, or practice; a qualifying medical condition; or information the vaccine could harm their health or well-being.
- The UI has made 139 religious accommodations and 12 medical accommodations.
- ISU has approved eight religious accommodations and two medical accommodations.
- UNI has had six waiver requests, which are “under review.”
When asked whether the universities are reporting the volunteered vaccination information and waiver requests to the Board of Regents office, spokesman Lehman said, “There isn't any formal, regular reporting to the board office.”
Vanessa Miller covers higher education for The Gazette.
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