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The Nevada Independent

At mandate deadline, more than 1,200 higher ed employees unvaccinated

Jacob Solis
Jacob Solis
CoronavirusHigher Education

Two months after regents voted to authorize a system-wide COVID vaccine mandate for higher education employees, almost 6 percent of those employees remain unvaccinated — setting the stage for upwards of 1,200 possible terminations by the end of the calendar year.  

Wednesday’s deadline marked the beginning of a termination process that could last into January, and one that provides a handful of off-ramps should employees choose to get the vaccine over the course of the next two months. 

Any employees who received termination letters won’t be let go until Dec. 31, and may file either a request for a reconsideration if they believe there was a mistake, or a request for a stay if they have received at least one dose of the vaccine. Employees who are ultimately fired will have a one-month grace period in January to get vaccinated, show proof and be reinstated. 

In all, 92.3 percent of employees showed proof of vaccination, and another 2.2 percent received either a medical or religious exemption. However, those rates varied widely from institution to institution. 

The state’s two rural colleges — Great Basin College in Elko and Western Nevada College in Carson City — maintain the lowest vaccination rates at 85.3 percent and 85.5 percent,  respectively. 

The bulk of unvaccinated individuals come from the largest institutions, namely  the College of Southern Nevada (86.7 percent vaccinated), UNLV (91.3 percent) and UNR (96.4 percent). Indeed, 611 employees at UNLV alone account for nearly half of the number of unvaccinated, and the three institutions combine for a vast majority of all still-unvaccinated employees, or 1,040 individuals. 

It is unclear, at the system level, what kind of employees make up the bulk of the remaining unvaccinated, as vaccination rates have varied between different employee groups, such as academic faculty and hourly student employees. 

At UNR, for instance, data shared by administrators with the faculty senate last month showed 98 percent of academic faculty had been vaccinated, compared to just 88.4 percent of hourly student employees. 

In November, Vice Chancellor for Public Affairs Constance Brooks told The Nevada Independent that no such breakdowns existed, and a system spokesperson confirmed Wednesday that no new breakdowns by employee type had been tracked by the system in the weeks since. 

How such breakdowns may interact with possible new policies on testing for unvaccinated employees remains unclear. 

Employees covered by the state’s Public Employee Benefits Program (PEBP), including full-time professional and classified higher education employees, may be required to pay a monthly surcharge for regular COVID testing under a new policy outlined last week. 

More information on how that policy may apply to NSHE employees is expected at a regents meeting later this week. 

In a statement issued Wednesday thanking the higher education community, system Chancellor Melody Rose said that the “health and wellbeing” of the system's students, faculty, staff and community “continues to be our highest priority.”

“Receiving the COVID-19 vaccination is the scientifically proven most effective way to protect the health and safety of the NSHE community and end the pandemic,” Rose said.

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