Kansas and Missouri public universities are no longer requiring staff members to be vaccinated after a federal court on Tuesday temporarily halted enforcement of a federal vaccine mandate for federal contractors.
University officials in both states made the announcement Tuesday afternoon, halting enforcement during a week many employees would have been required to get their first shots to meet the federal rule’s deadline.
“This is a fluid situation,” the chancellors of all four University of Missouri System schools, including UMKC, wrote to staff. “If the federal contractor vaccination mandate comes back into effect, we will update you of changes to the policy.”
Earlier this year the University of Kansas, Kansas State University, Wichita State University and the UM system announced they’d require all university employees to be vaccinated in compliance with federal rules.
Failure to comply, university officials said, risked millions of dollars in federal contracts and thousands of jobs in both states.
Employees had been required by federal law to be fully vaccinated by early January.
When UM system first approved its requirement less than three weeks ago, the policy said it would not remain in place if the federal rule is halted in court or withdrawn by the Biden administration.
After a federal judge in Georgia halted enforcement of the requirement, many universities are pausing enforcement while the legality of the mandate is argued in court.
The injunction comes after Republican attorneys general nationwide, including Kansas’ Derek Schmidt and Missouri’s Eric Schmitt, sued to stop enforcement of the mandates.
“Federal courts continue to recognize that these overreaching, one-size-fits all mandates from the Biden administration are unlawful,” Schmidt said in a statement. “I continue to encourage Kansans to be vaccinated, but that personal health care decision should be made by each individual and not mandated by the federal government.”
In a message to staff, KU Chancellor Douglas Girod said 83% of staff had already reported to university officials that they were vaccinated. Girod said he believes the percentage of vaccinated staff could be even higher.
Last month, Schmidt sent a letter to the Kansas Board of Regents directing KU and K-State to cease and desist their practices inquiring about the sincerity of the religious beliefs cited by employees seeking exemptions to the requirements.
In the letter obtained by The Star, Schmidt said the universities were in violation of a newly passed state law that requires public and private employers to accept religious and medical exemption requests without question.
UM officials did not disclose how many employees already have shown proof of vaccination. The rule’s suspension does not apply to the university health system’s employees, who have been required since August to be vaccinated.
The Star’s Jeanne Kuang contributed to this report.