‘Doubled in the last week’: UMMC says new COVID-19 vaccine policy emphasized by uptick in cases

(Source: WKYT)
Published: Jul. 16, 2021 at 8:56 AM CDT
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - The day after announcing a significant shift in policy, University of Mississippi Medical Center held a press conference to shed light on the new rules and open the floor to questions.

Thursday, the center said anyone who works or learns in a UMMC-controlled space must be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 “with limited exceptions” or wear an N95 mask at all times.

This begins Monday, July 26.

UMMC said it wants to get more of its workforce vaccinated to stop the spread of the virus.

“We acknowledge that this is not going to be a popular decision among employees,” said Dr. LouAnn Woodward, vice chancellor for health affairs and dean of the School of Medicine. “It is heavy on my heart to know that some of our employees feel disenfranchised by this because that’s not the intent at all.”

In leading up to this decision, Woodward said UMMC leaders looked at what was happening in other states and intentionally reviewed the policy with its team.

UMMC said more than 90% of the people in their care right now are unvaccinated.

Meanwhile, the hospital said roughly 70% of its employee and student population is fully vaccinated.

“I acknowledge that this is not a popular decision among some people, but on balance, when I think about the responsibility that we have to our patients, I feel strongly that this is the right thing to do,” she added.

Dr. Alan Jones, associate vice chancellor for clinical affairs and COVID-19 clinical response leader, said fully vaccinated employees in non-clinical areas will be allowed to go maskless, but not unvaccinated workers, students, or staff.

“We are offering employees a choice of whether they either receive the full series of the vaccine or they wear the best protection in terms of a mask that we can offer to our patients, and that is a filtering UMMC mask,” Jones said. “We believe this introduces the two methodologies that allow us to decrease the spread of COVID to the maximum amount that we can,”

And as the government updates its policy, so will UMMC.

“In the policy, we created a provision for several things,” Jones said. “The first is if a booster shot becomes recommended by the FDA that will be required to be fully vaccinated. If and when the emergency authorization use is lifted, and the FDA authorizes full authorization for the vaccine, it will then become a condition of employment or enrollment in one of our schools.”

Leaders say their decision is not political, but UMMC is following what they feel is an ethical responsibility they hope other healthcare organizations in the Magnolia State follow.

Ultimately, Jones said the rising number of new COVID-19 cases helped them reach this point.

“Our decision to do that has been emphasized by when we wake up every morning and look at our counts. Our counts are rising daily,” Jones said. “We’re at the highest point now than we have been in months. Doubled in the last week. We’ve got more pediatric patients in the hospital than we’ve had through the pandemic. That just emphasizes to just that we have to take a strong stance for our patients, for our State, and be a leader in this.”

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