Higher ed board prohibits COVID-19 vaccine requirement at Mississippi universities

Published 9:16 pm Tuesday, September 21, 2021

The board that governs Mississippi’s public universities has voted to prohibit schools from requiring COVID-19 vaccines for students and staff.

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.

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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.

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 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.