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Majority of employees at Augusta University will have to comply with vaccine mandate

The Augusta Chronicle logo The Augusta Chronicle 11/6/2021 Tom Corwin, Augusta Chronicle
Augusta University President Brooks Keel addresses a gathered audience about vaccine requirements at the university on Friday. By January, 84% of Augusta University employees will be required to be vaccinated. © Katie Goodale, Augusta Chronicle USA TODAY NETWORK Augusta University President Brooks Keel addresses a gathered audience about vaccine requirements at the university on Friday. By January, 84% of Augusta University employees will be required to be vaccinated.

More than 5,700 employees at Augusta University will have to get fully vaccinated by Jan. 4 or face repercussions if they do not have an exemption, President Brooks Keel said Friday during a town hall meeting.

The requirement comes from an Executive Order issued by President Biden in September that requires vaccination for all federal contractors, which includes AU and many others in the University System of Georgia, he said.

"This is a President Biden Executive Order and not a President Keel Executive Order," Keel said. "This impacts virtually every university in the entire country."

According to a lawsuit by Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp and others, AU has $17.1 million in federal contracts, and Keel said the requirement applies to not only those who work with those contracts but also those who help support those contracts. That totaled 5,711 people at AU as of Thursday, or about 84% of the workforce, Keel said.

He did not say how many are already vaccinated, and an AU spokeswoman said the university will have those statistics once employees start the process of documenting their vaccination status.

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The mandate does not cover employees of AU Health System, who are subject to separate regulations mandating vaccination issued by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, Keel said.

It also does not cover federal grants such as those issued by the National Institutes of Health, although that may change, he said.

Those subject to the OSHA regulations have an option to be subject to weekly COVID-19 testing in lieu of vaccination, but Keel said he does not know yet if that will be an option for AU employees.

"That has not been determined," he said. 

Limited exemptions are available for a "sincerely held religious belief" and for medical and disability accommodations, Keel said. Those will be reviewed individually, he said.

No exemption will be given for those who want to take an antigen test to show they have "natural immunity" from a prior infection, Keel said. 

"You still have to get vaccinated," Keel said.

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Failure to comply "may be grounds for progressive workplace discipline," he said. "This is not an option. This is a requirement."

Keel acknowledged there are lawsuits such as Georgia's seeking to block the mandate. AU is still awaiting for guidance from the university system to "understand if and/or how the lawsuit will impact the federal guidance," he said. "Again, it is one of those questions we just don't have an answer for at this time. Please stand by."

This article originally appeared on Augusta Chronicle: Majority of employees at Augusta University will have to comply with vaccine mandate

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