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The Wright Stuff: COVID-19 Vaccine Update for WVU Health System Employees

Oct. 21 Special Edition

Dear WVU Medicine colleagues,

Good morning. I wanted to give you some important updates about our requirement that employees be immunized against the COVID-19 virus.

Since announcing the requirement in August, I’m happy to report that nearly 95 percent of our employees are now compliant. As I mentioned in the past, we were in a strong position already when we announced the requirement with nearly 65 percent of our staff across the Health System voluntarily getting the vaccine.

As we announced the requirement, we also put in place a thoughtful process related to medical and religious exemptions that carefully followed both existing federal and state law: federal laws such as Title VII and the Americans with Disabilities Act, as well as the West Virginia Human Rights Act, already require employers to exempt employees from COVID-19 vaccine mandates where the employees’ sincerely held religious beliefs or medical conditions prevent them from receiving the vaccine.

As we approached our October 31 deadline for employees to be vaccinated, the WV legislature unexpectedly adopted a bill, which we except the Governor to sign in the near future, related to employer-based requirements that require employees be vaccinated against the virus. Once signed by the Governor, the bill becomes effective in 90 days, and includes provisions related to natural immunity and obtaining medical and religious exemptions.

In addition to this new state law, both the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) will issue regulations in the next few weeks that require all healthcare providers (including hospitals and health systems) and employers with more than 100 employees to vaccinate their employees. We expect both the CMS and OSHA regulations to include provisions related to medical and religious-based exemptions, as well as how employers must monitor or test employees who have received those exemptions.

Our task as all these new directives emerge from both the federal and state governments will be to reconcile them in some fashion, as they will likely have conflicting directives on what we must do. We will also seek clarification on some parts of the new state law that are unclear or not widely recognized as sound practices by the medical and scientific communities.

In light of all this, we thought it wise to extend the deadline to be fully vaccinated to January 21, 2022, which is around the time we expect the law to become effective.

Again, many thanks to everyone as we worked through this process. As we learn more about the new state law and the CMS and OSHA regulations, we will be sure to share that information with you.

— Albert Wright, President and CEO of the West Virginia University Health System