August 20, 2021
TO: Faculty, Staff, Students
FROM:Dr. Alan Jones, Associate Vice Chancellor for Clinical Affairs and COVID-19 Clinical Response Leader
SUBJECT: COVID-19 Vaccination Now a Condition of Employment/Enrollment
We knew it was coming, but it was still shocking when I saw it. Eric Topol, a cardiologist and scientist who has been frequently sharing data and scientific analysis related to COVID-19 on Twitter posted this week the graph shown below accompanied with these words: “Now leading the world in covid cases/capita (the US state with the lowest vaccination rate)”.
This graph created by Financial Times and based on data from the Johns Hopkins dashboard tracking COVID-19 cases worldwide shows the steep incline of the rolling 7-day number of new cases per capita in Mississippi. The way that line is nearly straight up – and certainly not appearing to round off – is jarring. Mississippi is the world’s hot spot for COVID-19.
COVID-19-related hospitalizations – including in critical care units – and number of people on ventilators are as high as they’ve been at any time during this pandemic and still rising according to the graph below from the Mississippi State Department of Health.
Hospital systems in Mississippi are being supported by federal, private and volunteer assets just to prevent collapse. Health care workers across the state – including our own #UMMCStrong workforce – are going well above and beyond to care for Mississippians who are hurting from this virus. And because of the ferocious virility of the Delta variant, pediatric cases of COVID-19 are significantly higher than previous surges in our state, and with school having only been in session for a couple of weeks now, that number is very likely to continue to rise.
COVID-19 in Mississippi is a raging wildfire but not everyone is helping throw water on the flames in their own backyard. We – as an institution and as the workforce for the state’s leading health system – need to be a leader in this fight.
We need everyone in our state to unite to combat a common enemy – the most vicious pandemic any of us have ever experienced. And the vaccine is the best way to do this. For this and other reasons I’ll share below, UMMC leadership has amended the UMMC COVID-19 Vaccination Policy to make COVID-19 vaccination a condition of employment or enrollment.
This past Tuesday, we hosted a press conference in Garage C to discuss the field hospital deployed and staffed by Samaritan’s Purse – the SECOND field hospital we’ve set up on our campus. We are very appreciative for this private organization’s willingness to come to Mississippi to aid in our efforts to respond to this pandemic. And we are equally thankful for the medical professionals sent to Mississippi by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services who are treating COVID-19 patients in the Garage B-based field hospital.
Just think about that, the hospital system in Mississippi is so strained we’re requiring outside agencies to come in to help (our hospital isn’t the only one in Mississippi where federally deployed medical teams are helping out).
During her opening comments at the press conference, Dr. LouAnn Woodward, vice chancellor for health affairs and COVID-19 incident commander, compared the natural disaster that occurred last week in Haiti (a devastating and deadly earthquake) to what’s happening here in Mississippi: “a disaster of our own making. We as a state, as a collective, have failed to respond in a unified way to a common threat. We have failed to use the tools we have to protect ourselves, to protect our families, to protect our children and to protect our state.” Of course, she is referring to the safe, effective and free vaccine that is available to every one of us and our children who are 12-years old and older.
Mississippians getting vaccinated is the most effective weapon in the arsenal as we battle this pandemic. It would be great if every eligible person in our state be vaccinated against COVID-19 but, realistically, I know that isn’t going to happen. But, as Dr. Thomas Dobbs, state health officer with the Mississippi State Department of Health, has said many times, we need to eclipse a 70% vaccination rate to reach herd immunity. We are nowhere close to that. The number of Mississippians getting vaccinated daily has risen over the past few weeks, which is a glimmer of hope, but still well below what it needs to be to get us to that 70% mark.
As part of this policy change, the deadlines associated with each phase outlined in the policy, who falls under each phase and what is required to be completed on or before each deadline has been adjusted. The updated deadlines for each Phase are now:
The option to wear an N95 mask in lieu of getting vaccinated on or before the deadline applicable to your position is no longer available. As is the case with any UMMC policy, failure to comply could result in corrective action up to and including termination or dismissal
If you are fully vaccinated and you’ve already submitted the REDCap personal attestation form you received in your UMMC e-mail, no further action is needed unless you are contacted for additional information.
If you have already submitted the form and chose the option to wear an N95 mask instead of receiving a COVID-19 vaccination, you will receive an e-mail with further instructions.
All Employees requesting an accommodation from receiving the COVID-19 vaccination are required to submit the request in accordance with the applicable procedure no later than Sept. 10, 2021. Employee requests for accommodation should be submitted to firstname.lastname@example.org and include an explanation of limitations and any supporting documents. Additional information regarding the accommodation request process for students will be shared at a later date.
The incentives for vaccination announced Wednesday and scheduled to occur following each phase deadline will go on as planned.
Requiring vaccinations of the people who work and/or learn in our or other health care facilities is certainly nothing new. And recently, organizations – including the two Jackson-based hospitals located closest to us – have passed policies that require COVID-19 vaccination of its workforce. We are not setting precedent, but we do feel it’s important that we take this step to protect our patients and each other and also show Mississippi how committed we are to doing all we can to address the serious situation we are in. Bold actions are needed if we want to have a chance of never returning to this level of stress on our state’s health care system.
Taking steps to protect our patients is priority one. And having a fully vaccinated health care workforce is the only way to meet that standard. The vaccine is proven safe and very effective at lessening the chance that a positive case could result in a hospitalization or death. The vast majority of Mississippians who are testing positive and/or needing medical care are unvaccinated. The vaccines work!
Now the Medical Center must lead by example and move to requiring vaccination for all who work or learn in our facilities. Vaccines are readily available through both public and private providers, and I urge you to schedule an appointment. We can no longer ignore the evidence that what we are currently doing is not working. It’s not necessary that you get your vaccination through a UMMC option. I encourage you to go the easiest option for you which could include the many pharmacies, medical clinics and public health departments that are offering the free vaccine. Information for employees and students on receiving a COVID-19 vaccination can be found here.
Something has to change, and the employees and students of the state’s only academic medical center are the people to lead that change.