At Kirtland AFB, a scramble to enact vaccine policy - Albuquerque Journal

At Kirtland AFB, a scramble to enact vaccine policy

Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal

Unvaccinated federal employees and contractors at Sandia National Laboratories and Kirtland Air Force Base will be required to get vaccinated in the coming weeks after President Joe Biden last week issued sweeping executive orders requiring the COVID-19 vaccine.

But officials at the sprawling military base in Albuquerque, where thousands of people work for such entities as Sandia Labs, the Air Force Research Laboratory and the Department of Energy, said details of how such a policy will be enacted are still being worked out.

A vaccine mandate for federal workers takes effect Nov. 22, which gives people about a month to get the first of the two-shot series of vaccines made by Pfizer and Moderna, or until early November to get the single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine, to meet the deadline. Unlike the president’s vaccine mandate for companies with more than 100 workers, which allows unvaccinated people to opt instead for weekly testing, the order aimed at government workers and contractors makes no such exception.

“Based on the Executive Order requiring federal employees and contractors to be vaccinated against COVID-19, current Sandia employees have been told they should expect the vaccine requirement to apply to them,” Troy Rummler, a spokesman for Sandia Labs, said in an email. “The details of the implementation of that order are forthcoming.”

Sandia workers already have a higher rate of vaccinated employees than the state as a whole. Rummler said that 83% of the labs’ roughly 14,000 employees and contractors are already fully vaccinated. Statewide, about 69% of adults are fully vaccinated, according to the Department of Health’s latest vaccine report.

Rummler said Sandia also has a policy requiring all new employees to be vaccinated.

A spokesman for the Department of Energy said the agency is still developing a new policy based on Biden’s executive orders. He didn’t say what percentage of DOE personnel at Kirtland are vaccinated.

Last month, the vaccine was required for military personnel, which applies to the roughly 3,300 service members assigned to Kirtland, said James Fisher, a spokesman for the base.

He said the most recent memo the base received that applied to KAFB civilians was on Sept. 8, and it said all workers would need to provide proof of vaccination or a recent negative test to access Department of Defense facilities. Fisher said the base hasn’t received an updated memo since Biden’s executive orders, which were issued Sept. 9.

He said that the percentage of KAFB employees who are vaccinated is considered an operational security issue and won’t be released.

Biden’s vaccine orders will also affect the private sector.

In coming weeks, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration will issue a full order requiring employers with more than 100 employees to ensure their workers are vaccinated or get tested weekly. Until that order is finalized, however, several large employers operating in New Mexico are taking a wait-and-see approach.

Spokespeople from Fidelity Investments and Dion’s each said their companies are still evaluating the mandate and waiting for specifics before announcing a change to their policies.

Rob Black, president and CEO of the New Mexico Chamber of Commerce, told the Journal that some companies are unsure whether employers will cover the costs of regular testing for employees who opt out of vaccination. He added that it remains unclear whether the order determines if companies qualify based on head count or full-time equivalency.

“What we are hearing is that there is a lot of uncertainty about what the OSHA rule is actually going to look like,” Black said.

Stephen Hamway contributed to this report.


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