From the Dean: What we know of the federal vaccine mandate

Yesterday UND sponsored a Town Hall meeting for faculty and staff to discuss the recent federal mandates for SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) vaccination. There was a productive “back and forth” discussion of the issues and implications for UND. Here’s a brief overview of what was discussed. There are three ways the Executive Order regarding vaccine requirements are being implemented. The first is through the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and applies to private organizations with 100 or more employees. The OSHA mandate does not apply to UND, since we are a public entity. The second mandate is through the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS) and impacts certain health care organizations that receive Medicare or Medicaid funding. It is not clear if the CMS mandate applies to the SMHS, since the way we might be impacted by it is through our Centers for Family Medicine in Bismarck and Minot. But it is unclear if these types of clinics are covered by the mandate; we have not yet received a clear answer to this question. The final way in which the federal mandate might impact the School relates to organizations that have contracts or contract-like agreements with a federal agency, and this does apply to us. Research grants, however, are not covered by the rule.

Both the OSHA and CMS mandates have been challenged in federal courts, and in both cases the courts have blocked (at least for now) the implementation of the mandate. Subsequently, OSHA announced that it is suspending enforcement of the mandate.

But the bottom line for us, at least at this time, is that the only federal vaccine mandate that applies to the SMHS is the one related to federal contracts. None of our contracts have come up for renewal with language that requires vaccination so far. Thus, at least for the present, none of the faculty or staff at the School are being required to be vaccinated as a consequence of the federal guidelines.

That being said, let me re-emphasize my view of the importance of vaccination (including booster shots) for all those who are eligible. It is unfortunate that the debate over federal mandates has exacerbated the current politicization of the vaccine issue. The recent emergence of the omicron variant is further evidence that too much of the world’s population remains unvaccinated. How so? Because the greater the number of infected people who harbor the COVID-19 virus, the greater the chance that mutations of the virus will occur – just as we’ve seen with the delta and omicron variants. So please – don’t let the noise obscure the message. Vaccination is the most important pathway around to allow us all to get back to a new normal. Please get vaccinated – and/or a booster shot – if you are eligible. It’s the best way to protect not only yourself, but also your family, friends, community – and, indeed, the world.

Joshua Wynne, MD, MBA, MPH
Vice President for Health Affairs, UND
Dean, UND School of Medicine & Health Sciences