UNH President announces vaccine mandate for all UNH employees

Ben MacKillop

In an announcement sent out last Friday, UNH President James Dean announced that under new federal requirements some UNH faculty members are considered federal contractors and will now be subject to vaccine requirements. However, on Friday, Oct. 22, Dean announced that this vaccination requirement would now expand to all university employees, including students employed by the university. The new requirements stem from the efforts of the Biden administration to increase vaccination rates across the country by leveraging powers of the federal government. This includes its control over workplace guidelines for federal workers and control over the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) for private businesses.  

In the announcement Dean remarked that, “Without a COVID-19 vaccine requirement in place this fall semester, we have done a tremendous job getting vaccinated and keeping our community safe.”  

At the start of classes in late August, 77% of UNH faculty were fully vaccinated for COVID-19 versus 88% of the student population. Dean continued, “under the new requirements, we are deemed federal contractors and are subject to the workplace safety protocols and directives, which include a vaccination requirement for ‘covered contractor employees.’” 

While the language of the original announcement from last Friday was not clear on who will have to be vaccinated due to the requirements, Dean said that at least some faculty members will be required under the mandate, emphasizing the $130 million in federal grant funding the university receives. “We will be assembling an implementation team to ensure compliance,” Dean said, without sharing any information or timetable for such implementation other than that there would be more information in the coming days. 

In the Oct. 22 update sent out to all students and staff, Dean announced that all UNH employees, including student employees, will be required to be fully vaccinated by Dec. 8 to be in compliance with the federal guidelines. People are considered fully vaccinated two weeks after the final dose of their vaccine (second dose for Pfizer and Moderna vaccines or first dose for Johnson & Johnson vaccines). This means that unvaccinated employees will need to receive their first vaccine does within the next few weeks in order to be fully vaccinated by the deadline.  

While there are health related and religious exemptions for the vaccine mandate, these exemptions are strict, with the religious exemptions form stating that, “General philosophical or moral objections shall not suffice as the basis for a religious exemption.” In his update, Dean referred current unvaccinated students or faculty members to the Durham Rite Aid, and Vaccines.gov list of vaccine locations if they want to get the vaccine, making no comment or update about a potential UNH vaccine clinic for employees to be vaccinated. Dean ended the update noting that “the overwhelming majority of our university community has already told us that they are vaccinated, so this new requirement affects a relatively small number of employees and student employees.” 

COVID-19 cases on campus have been steadily declining since the second and third weeks of September, where 139 and 104 weekly positive test  caused UNH administration to reinstate multiple restrictions such as mask mandates in residence halls and other buildings as well as barring non-student guests from residence halls. The ban on non-student guests was lifted last week via an email from Senior Vice Provost for Student Life Kenneth Holmes who announced the lifting of the ban a few days prior to last weekend’s, parent’s weekend.  

While weekly positive case numbers have shrunk to around 40 per week in the last few weeks, there is no sign of UNH administration lifting any additional restrictions, especially mask mandates in all buildings.