Mississippi’s only Level 1 trauma center to mandate staff take COVID vaccine

Published 5:13 pm Friday, August 20, 2021

Mississippi’s only Level 1 trauma center and teaching hospital announced Friday it will now mandate all employees and students to be vaccinated against COVID-19. The policy is a reversal from a rule put in place last month that allowed employees or students to skip the vaccine if they agreed to wear an N95 mask while on campus.

In a letter Friday, a top official at the University of Mississippi Medical Center said it’s time for the institution to take aggressive action. Mississippi has the highest per capita rate of new COVID-19 cases in the United States, according to the Johns Hopkins University COVID-19 case tracker.

“COVID-19 in Mississippi is a raging wildfire but not everyone is helping throw water on the flames in their own backyard,” wrote Dr. Alan Jones, University of Mississippi Medical Center’s associate vice chancellor for clinical affairs. “We – as an institution and as the workforce for the state’s leading health system – need to be a leader in this fight.”

The University of Mississippi Medical Center’s policy requires that employees and students be vaccinated against COVID-19 by Nov. 1.

Vaccinations will be required to be completed in phases: By Sept. 15, all managers and supervisors must be vaccinated; by Oct. 1, all other employees; by Nov. 1, all students.

Those who refuse vaccination may face “corrective action up to and including termination or dismissal,” according to Jones’s letter. He said those seeking accommodations must submit requests by Sept. 10.

“Mississippians getting vaccinated is the most effective weapon in the arsenal as we battle this pandemic,” he wrote.

The University of Mississippi Medical Center first implemented a policy regarding vaccinations for students and employees on July 16. People either had to provide proof of vaccination or wear a N95 mask at all times while at any hospital-affiliated facility.

The University of Mississippi Medical Center has 10,000 employees and 3,000 students.

COVID-19-related hospitalizations in Mississippi are being recorded at levels not previously seen during the pandemic — 1,660 people were hospitalized with the virus in the state on Wednesday.

The Johns Hopkins tracker showed that as of Thursday, Mississippi had 120 new cases of COVID-19 per 100,000 residents. Louisiana was next-highest at 113 cases per 100,000, then Florida at 102.

Dr. Mary Taylor, chair of the Department of Pediatrics at Children’s of Mississippi hospital, said on Friday there were 30 children hospitalized with confirmed or suspected cases of coronavirus — a hospital record.

“We’re just bracing for the fact that it might get worse every day … we have not seen that peak of the surge — we’re worried that it’s not there yet because we have not seen that that curve is starting to slow down,” she said at a news conference Friday outside the hospital.