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Nevada’s higher education system approves employee COVID vaccine mandate

Nevada’s higher education system on Thursday approved a policy requiring COVID-19 vaccinations for employees.

After more than two hours of public comments, the Nevada System of Higher Education’s Board of Regents approved the policy change by a 10-3 vote. Regents Patrick Boylan, Byron Brooks and Lois Tarkanian, all of whom represent districts in Clark County, voted “no.”

Under the policy, employees must provide proof of a completed COVID-19 vaccination or series on or before Dec. 1. New NSHE employees must be vaccinated before they start on the job. Medical and religious exemptions will be considered.

Failure of an employee to comply with the mandate “will result in termination from employment,” a board briefing paper stated.

The step comes after regents voted unanimously Sept. 10 to authorize NSHE Chancellor Melody Rose’s office to draft policies and procedures to implement a mandate.

There were significantly more public comments at Thursday’s meeting than at the previous session. Opinions were mixed, but more commenters were opposed to a mandate than in favor.

NSHE employees are already under a state requirement to either be fully vaccinated or undergo weekly testing.

In August, the State Board of Health voted to require all public college and university students to be fully vaccinated in order to enroll for the spring 2022 semester. Medical and religious exemptions also are allowed.

The Clark County School Board also voted 5-1 in early September to allow Superintendent Jesus Jara to draft and implement an employee COVID-19 vaccination policy that would allow for medical and religious exemptions.

Under NSHE’s policy, employees — with the exception of classified staff — who haven’t provided a record of a completed COVID-19 vaccination by Oct. 15 will receive a “notice of noncompliance.”

“This notice will include information on how the employee can correct any misinformation about their current vaccination status, resources available in their community to receive a vaccine, the ability to request a waiver, and a statement that failure to comply with the Employee COVID-19 Vaccine Requirement by December 1, 2021, will result in termination of employment,” according to the policy.

Employees who continue to defy the edict will receive a “notice of warning” on or before Nov. 1 and a “notice of termination” on or before Dec. 1.

Classified employees will also be subject to termination for noncompliance, but under a different set of procedures.

Employees may request a waiver “due to a diagnosis of a pre-existing and individual medical condition which presents a medical contraindication to the COVID-19 vaccination or if receiving a vaccine would violate a sincerely held religious belief,” the policy states.

Employees who work entirely remotely or via telecommuting aren’t subject to the policy, but will be prohibited from being on any NSHE property without first providing proof of vaccination.

Public comments

A UNLV employee for almost 19 years said he had a simple message for regents: “You all need to repent.”

He told regents they have believed a lie and are now propagating it. He alleged “experimental injections” are being called vaccines and aren’t safe.

By mandating vaccination, regents will be guilty of murder if any employees die, he said, and at least, guilty of crimes against humanity.

Another UNLV employee said he previously had COVID-19 but was asymptomatic. He said approving a mandate would be taking away an employee’s right of medical choice.

Multiple people affiliated with Western Nevada College in Carson City signed a written public comment saying they understand the health and wellness of students and employees come first.

But the commenters said they wanted to request that employees continue to follow the current state policy — either being fully vaccinated or undergoing mandatory weekly testing — instead of NSHE’s policy.

They wrote they’re worried about the stability of the college operationally during spring semester and beyond, citing concerns about a sudden loss of staff.

Patty Charlton, vice president and provost for the College of Southern Nevada’s Henderson campus, and Chris Heavey, executive vice president and provost at UNLV, are both on NSHE’s COVID-19 task force. They urged regents to approve the mandate.

Charlton said the decision may be challenging, but the policy reflects input sessions that were held and “the review process has been extensive for the policy.”

She said the science is solid on the efficacy of the COVID vaccine and supporting the mandate is “the pathway to ending this public health crisis.”

Despite what others said, vaccines are extremely effective and are last remaining tool in the arsenal to help end the pandemic, Heavey added.

Kent Ervin, president of the Nevada Faculty Alliance, said the alliance issued a statement in July urging vaccination requirements for students and employees.

Contact Julie Wootton-Greener at jgreener@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2921. Follow @julieswootton on Twitter.

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