Regents back UNM's community vaccine mandate - Albuquerque Journal

Regents back UNM’s community vaccine mandate

A sign outside the Student Union Building at the University of New Mexico advertises a free COVID-19 vaccination clinic. Regents voted to support a policy seeking the mandatory vaccination of all students, faculty and staff. (Liam Debonis/For the Journal)

Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal

University of New Mexico Regent Sandra Begay did not need to hear statistics about surging cases of COVID-19 to understand the continuing threat of the pandemic and the need to take vigorous measures to fight it.

Begay is a member of the Navajo Nation, which has been pummeled by the pandemic. She cited a list of her relatives who have lost their lives to COVID-19 or have been stricken by it.

“I take this very personally,” Begay said during a special board of regents meeting early Thursday morning. “The pandemic has hit my family hard.”

Begay and fellow regents voted unanimously to support UNM President Garnett Stokes’ policy seeking the mandatory vaccination of all students, faculty and staff against COVID-19 by the end of September.

Stokes announced the vaccination policy this week, and the board of regents meeting, which was livestreamed for public viewing, was called solely to discuss and vote on the matter.

Board President Douglas M. Brown, noting that COVID-19 cases were up 48% this week in the United States, said a swift assessment of Stokes’ policy and action on it was imperative.

“The unvaccinated are eight times as likely to get the disease and have a 25% chance to have severe reactions to it,” he said. “Our hospitals are getting overcrowded.” Brown said regents will continue to monitor the situation and make adjustments as necessary.

UNM’s vaccination mandate would apply to all university personnel and students who have access to the facilities, housing, programs, services and activities located on the Main Campus and Academic Health Sciences Campus in Albuquerque, and the branch campuses in Gallup, Los Alamos, Taos and Valencia. This population would be required to be fully vaccinated by Sept. 30. Fall classes start on Aug. 23.

Persons who are not vaccinated could be restricted from accessing some UNM facilities and events. The policy does permit students and staff to request exemptions for religious or medical reasons, but these individuals may be required to adopt additional safety measures, including more frequent and regular asymptomatic surveillance testing and symptomatic testing.

UNM had previously put into effect a policy requiring the wearing of masks by faculty, students and staff. But the regents agreed the vaccination mandate is necessary not only to safeguard persons at UNM facilities but to curb the spread of the disease elsewhere.

“We are about to put 20,000 people in a blender and some of them are not going to be vaccinated without this policy,” Regent William H. Payne said. “We need not only to protect this campus but the entire state.”

The delta variant of COVID-1 is spreading worldwide and igniting new outbreaks of the disease in the United States, especially among the unvaccinated.

“Ninety-seven percent of the hospitalized are unvaccinated,” Regent Jack Fortner said. “The delta variant is real and we need to protect people.”

Regent Robert L. Schwartz said the vaccination policy is vital if UNM does not want to go back to online education within weeks after the fall term starts.

“This is the only way we are going to have an in-person semester,” he said.

Public comment during the meeting from representatives of UNM faculty and students was also solidly in support of mandatory vaccination.

“The pandemic is nowhere near gone,” said Greg Romero, president of the Associated Students of the University of New Mexico. “This decision is not only good for the university but for our greater community.”

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