Under President Joe Biden’s executive order from Sept. 9, 2021, all Kansas State employees — including student employees — must be fully vaccinated by Dec. 8, 2021.
Initially, there was confusion as to whether the executive order applied to university employees. However, Charles Taber, provost and executive vice president of K-State, announced during a virtual town hall meeting on Oct. 22, 2021, the executive order does apply.
“We’ve received from the Kansas Board of Regents formal guidance that states that Kansas State University, the University of Kansas and Wichita State University all are subject to the executive order,” Taber said during the town hall meeting. “This means that there will be a vaccine requirement for all K-State employees, and this will extend to all K-State employees whether they work on federal contracts directly or not.”
Taber said the executive order applies to K-State because the university receives funding and contracts from the federal government.
“We currently have over 275 federal contracts that total more than 45 million dollars in contract awards to the university,” Taber said. “In total, in terms of our federal funding, we receive over 200 million dollars in federal funding, and that funding touches the work of every employee at the university.”
Jeffrey Morris, vice president for communications and marketing at K-State, clarified what “fully-vaccinated” means under the executive order.
“By that, they mean fully vaccinated with either the two-shot Moderna and Pfizer or the one-shot Johnson & Johnson,” Morris said. “It does not include boosters, in terms of the definition of fully vaccinated at this time.”
Morris also said that because the Johnson & Johnson vaccine takes two weeks after someone receives the single dose to be considered fully vaccinated, and the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines require two doses, employees will need to receive the vaccines before Dec. 8.
“We’ve actually put those on the COVID vaccine website so you can look at those and see what those dates are,” Morris said.
Morris said a religious or medical exemption is allowed by the federal mandate.
“If you go to our COVID website, there’s forms for someone to submit if they want to request an exemption,” Morris said. “We have received some already, and we’re finalizing the process for how we review those and how the decision process is going to be made. But we are following, basically, a federal template on how those exemptions can be submitted.”
While these two exemptions are allowed, Morris said there would be no options for employees to provide weekly negative COVID-19 tests instead of receiving a vaccine.
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“Currently, we do not have a weekly test opt-out, and that’s, again, based on the federal guidance to not allow that,” Morris said. “We will be looking at that as we go forward for someone who gets an exemption. We may, but that hasn’t been decided yet.”
Morris said the university is working to determine what will happen to K-State employees who are not fully vaccinated by Dec. 8, 2021. However, he said they would not be able to continue their work at K-State.
“They will not be allowed to do university work after Dec. 8, and we’re working through that process right now in terms of what that means for somebody and how we will proceed with that,” Morris said. “They will not be allowed to work for the university or do university work after that date.”
While Morris said the university expects some employees not to get vaccinated, he does not expect many issues.
“The vast majority of people, probably somewhere north of 70 percent of faculty, staff and students have been vaccinated based on our estimates,” Morris said.
Julia Wilson, graduate student in interior architecture and product design, is a student employee at K-State. She said the vaccine requirement is beneficial to the university.
“I think it’s going to let other people know that we’re taking the pandemic seriously and that we want to benefit all the students and staff to create a healthy and safe environment,” Wilson said.
Morris also said ensuring K-State remains a safe place to learn and work is paramount.
“We’ve been doing really well so far in terms of how we’ve been handling this semester in terms of COVID, and we hope it continues,” Morris said. “The most important thing for us is keeping people safe and making sure we can get through this semester.”