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University of Missouri suspends vaccine rule after Biden order blocked by federal court

By: - December 8, 2021 9:14 am
classic columns from side in summer framed by green; jesse dome view from cornell

The iconic columns on the University of Missouri-Columbia campus. (University of Missouri photo)

The University of Missouri stopped enforcing a federal coronavirus vaccine rule Tuesday after a federal judge in Georgia blocked President Joe Biden’s executive order imposing the requirement on federal contractors.

In a message sent to employees on all four UM System campuses, President Mun Choi and campus chancellors wrote that the mandate is suspended while the court cases continue.

“Employees are no longer required to show documentation of vaccination or apply for an exemption at this time,” Choi and the chancellors wrote.

U.S. District Judge R. Stan Baker of the Southern District of Georgia issued a preliminary injunction Tuesday in a case brought by Georgia, Kansas and five other states. The injunction applies nationwide, Baker ordered, because one of the private parties, the Associated Builders and Contractors, Inc., represents companies subject to the rule all over the country.

“While the Procurement Act explicitly and unquestionably bestows some authority upon the President, the court is unconvinced, at this stage of the litigation, that it authorized him to direct the type of actions by agencies that are contained in (the executive order),” Baker wrote.

Baker’s ruling follows a similar decision by U.S. District Judge Gregory V. Van Tatenhove in a lawsuit brought by Kentucky, Ohio and Tennessee. Tatenhove’s preliminary injunction, however, only applied to federal contractors in those states.

A similar lawsuit, filed by Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt with support from nine other states, is pending in federal court in St. Louis. 

As of Tuesday, 52% of the Missouri population is fully vaccinated, according to state Department of Health and Senior Services data, including 62.7% of adults. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,  60.1% of Americans and 71.6% of American adults are fully vaccinated.

New cases of COVID-19 have been increasing steadily in Missouri since Nov. 1 and, as of Tuesday, the daily rate for newly reported infections was at the highest since mid-August. The virus has killed more than 15,500 Missourians.

Biden on Sept. 9 issued the order requiring vaccination or proof of an exemption on religious or medical grounds for all employees of federal contractors. The university, because of the research contracts and other funding it receives from the federal government, fell under the requirements of the order.

The Board of Curators voted Nov. 18 to comply with the rule and set a Jan. 4 deadline for all employees to complete the vaccination process or show proof of their exemption.

“We understand the significant financial challenges that would be created if we do not comply with this federal mandate,” Darryl Chatman, board chair said in a news release issued after the vote.

In the message to university employees, Choi and the chancellors wrote that the system has been monitoring the progress of the court cases and the requirement could be reinstated.

“Again, this is a fluid situation,” they wrote. “If the federal contractor vaccination mandate comes back into effect, we will update you of changes to the policy.”

The change of policy for general university employees does not apply to the University of Missouri Health System in Columbia or University of Missouri-Kansas City faculty, staff and students who have direct contact with patients in a health care setting, the message stated.

Vaccination requirements for those employees, required under a separate university policy implemented in August, remain in effect, it stated.

This article has been updated since it was initially published.

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Rudi Keller
Rudi Keller

Rudi Keller covers the state budget, energy and the legislature. He’s spent 22 of his 30 years in journalism covering Missouri government and politics, most recently as the news editor of the Columbia Daily Tribune. Keller has won awards for spot news and investigative reporting.

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