GALVESTON

The University of Texas Medical Branch is requiring its nearly 18,000 employees, students and contract workers to get their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine by Dec. 6 or go on leave, officials announced Friday.

The rule applies to anyone who works for or with the medical branch and is meant to comply with federal guidelines requiring vaccination of all employees of organizations that receive Medicare and Medicaid payments.

The move came despite Gov. Greg Abbott’s executive order in August forbidding government agencies in Texas from requiring their employees be inoculated against COVID.

Medical Branch officials created the Dec. 6 deadline to ensure all 13,800 personnel and 3,500 students receive their second dose by a Jan. 4 federal deadline, spokesman Christopher Smith Gonzalez said.

Medicare and Medicaid payments make up about a third of the medical branch’s revenues, roughly $685 million a year, said Dr. Timothy Harlin, executive vice president and CEO of the medical branch health system.

Losing that money would be devastating, he said.

“Medicare and Medicaid are so interwoven with most large health systems and rural hospitals it would be very difficult for any hospital, I would imagine, to survive without it,” Harlin said.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services issued the final rule Nov. 4, noting the policy would apply to 17 million health-care workers.

President Joe Biden announced in September he had requested various federal agencies to develop vaccine requirements for companies with 100 or more employees, for companies that do business with the federal government and for millions of health care workers.

“Our workforce, student body and volunteers are essential to our mission,” medical branch President Dr. Ben Raimer said in a Thursday letter to employees.

“Compliance with these vaccine mandates is equally essential. Non-compliance would jeopardize significant federal funding that is critical to our training programs, research priorities and health care services.”

The requirement applies to employees, faculty, licensed practitioners, students, volunteers, trainees and contracted staff, according to the medical branch.

Employees and students who aren’t in clinical settings and employees who work from home also fall under the requirement, he said.

As of Thursday, the medical branch estimated about 69 percent of its 13,800 employees were vaccinated, Harlin said. Since the medical branch told employees they needed to prove their vaccination status, staff and faculty who were vaccinated at facilities outside the medical branch have submitted vaccine cards, Harlin said.

The medical branch still is updating those numbers as more employees prove their vaccine status, he said.

More than 90 percent of the 3,500 students already are vaccinated, Harlin said.

“The students did a really good job getting vaccinated,” Harlin said.

The rule doesn’t allow employees and others to opt for regular testing, but it provides exceptions for some recognized medical conditions and religious beliefs, according to the medical branch.

The medical branch plans to set up two committees — one for religious exceptions and one for medical exceptions — to review requests for exemptions to the mandate on a case-by-case basis, Harlin said.

Employees without those exceptions who aren’t vaccinated by Dec. 6 won’t immediately be terminated, but they won’t be allowed to work, he said.

“It’s our hope that everybody gets the vaccine,” Harlin said. “We want to keep all employees. We love them and we really need them.

“If they don’t have proof of vaccination status, they can use their leave accruals until those are gone. Then they can take an unpaid leave of absence. They can stay affiliated with us.”

The federal regulations are part of a broad range of mandates Biden requested from various federal agencies in September.

In October, Abbott, in opposition to Biden’s announcement, issued an executive order expanding his prohibition on vaccine mandates to include private as well as public employers. Texas last week sued the Biden administration over the mandate for companies with 100 or more employees.

Keri Heath: 409-683-5241; keri.heath@galvnews.com or on Twitter @HeathKeri.

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(30) comments

Carlos Ponce

Maybe they'll get there first shot at a local bar. After that, another shot.[wink]

Carlos Ponce

Maybe they'll get their first shot at a local bar. After that, another shot. [wink]

Allison Buchtien

This shall be interesting.

Walter Dannenmaier

What? I thought every single UTMB employee had already written an Op-ed here to tell us how safe, safe, SAFE! and efficacious the vaccines all are? How can it possible be that 30-something percent of them are UNVACCINATED? What is going go on here! I thought the science is ALL settled and that new drugs in the future won't need Pre-Clinical Safety Testing and the general public will be encouraged to use them before the safety assessments are completed. My goodness, if the Pfizer models show that even 1 child in a million might be saved, what does it matter if the vaccine sends 34 children to the ICU with myocarditis! It's for the good of us all!

Gary Scoggin

The story here is that a big majority of UTMB staff and students have taken a necessary step to protect them and their patients against Covid. I wish those that don’t do this a happy career I whatever new field they choose. As they are obviously not cut out for this one.

Bailey Jones

[thumbup]

Carlos Ponce

US Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, Bottom line, BST Holdings, L.L.C. v. OSHA:

"For these reasons, the petitioners’ motion for a stay pending review is

GRANTED. Enforcement of the Occupational Safety and Health

Administration’s “COVID-19 Vaccination and Testing; Emergency Temporary Standard” remains STAYED pending adequate judicial review

of the petitioners’ underlying motions for a permanent injunction.

In addition, IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that OSHA take no

steps to implement or enforce the Mandate until further court order."

https://www.ca5.uscourts.gov/opinions/pub/21/21-60845-CV0.pdf

Carlos Ponce

UTMB is doing fine without 100% compliance. Can they function with only 69%? Sure... but not too well. Better to stock up on Ivermectin than follow a mandate from a senile old coot..... for the sake of the patients.

UTMB's main concern seems to be the possible loss of Federal funding.[rolleyes]

Jim Forsythe

As Gary said, it is time for these employees to choose. If they decide not to be vaccinated by Dec. 6, they will not be able to work at UTMB until they are vaccinated

If that what they choose, they will not be able to claim unemployment benefits, even when their leave accruals are gone.

The person that chooses this path will not be able to find work at organizations that receive Medicare and Medicaid payments.

Carlos Ponce

If UTMB decides to put them on leave they'll be hurting their patients.

As for the mandate, the 5th US Court of Appeals has put a halt to it. Let's see where it stands on December 6th. Maybe the jackal and hyena will be gone.

Jim Forsythe

It is the person that decides to put themselves on leave, as they know what is required to work at UTMB. If they choose not to take the vaccination, they know what the next steps UTEM will take.

When I work at the refinery, we had rules we had to follow. If we did not follow them, we where subjected to termination. We all knew the rules and it was up to us follow them. It was not Amoco or BP fault, if someone choose not to follow the rules that was in place.

Carlos you are trying to combine two different policies into one. The one on hold is this one.

An emergency stay, issued Saturday from the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, prevents the White House from requiring all full and part-time workers at private-sector companies with 100 or more employees to be vaccinated or get tested weekly and wear face mask.

The second one is covered by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) at the Department of Health and Human Services which in charge of the requirement that health care workers at facilities participating in Medicare and Medicaid are fully vaccinated.

Carlos Ponce

Let's see what happens........

Gary Scoggin

Have your prophets weighed in on this one? I hope these predictions are more reliable than their Trump restoration ones. Btw, are still welcoming on Bailey?

Carlos Ponce

" hope these predictions are more reliable than their Trump restoration ones." Are you placing GOD on your timeline, Gary Scoggin? Read your Bible, not wise to question God's prophets.

Gary Scoggin

Since you’ve never revealed a source or any specificity about your alleged Trump prophecies how am I to evaluate them? On your say so? Or can you point me to a passage in the Bible that unequivocally says what you claim? I think you should quit following false prophets. Read your Bible, Carlos. It might help tone down your arrogance.

Carlos Ponce

"Since you’ve never revealed a source or any specificity about your alleged Trump prophecies how am I to evaluate them?"

Apparently your memory is faulty. You don't remember when your cohorts ridiculed and belittled the NUMEROUS prophets and videos provided.

Carlos Ponce

Carlos Ponce Nov 13, 2021 6:37pm: Let's see what happens........

"UTMB lifts vaccination requirements after court order " December 1, 2021.

While this isn't over, judges have so far ruled this was an "overreach" by the Bidenistas - like I stated.

Walter Dannenmaier

And BP was such a great model of refining operations? To the contrary, their record in Texas City was abysmal. Let's be honest here. I would rather be treated by the 31% who look at the data and think for themselves.

C. Patterson

If masks work, why aren’t they working? If vaccines work, why aren’t they working? If all you need is a vaccine to protect yourself, why do you care if someone else is vaccinated, you’re protected right?

FACT IS the vaccine DOES NOT prevent the spread on COVID. The vaccinated can spread the virus at about the same rate as unvaccinated. On Friday Fauci stated that the vaccine “ FAILED TO PREFORM AS ADVERTISED” so whats the solution? Endless boosters. The CDC just stated this week that they have NO EVIDENCE that people with natural immunities spread the virus. Fauci needs to go, they need to let experts in the field deal with this and rerelease it when its been refined. Focus on early intervention, therapeutics. Instead of censoring, controlling, demonizing anyone who doesn’t agree with the narrative, how about they censor media. Not one damn word from them! Restore Drs ability to practice medicine without restrictions or threats and return this to a Dr.- Patient Decision instead of some half baked flimsy mandate which we should note HAS NOT been Congressionally Approved. Accept that what the vaccine does is better your chances of survival should you contract the virus and maybe you need that for whatever reason you and your doctor decide. And before all you Karens start clawing your faces off and howling at the moon because I’m speaking facts, not fear porn ,YES I am vaccinated. Its time to set politics aside and have open discussion in the public forums of whats happening here.

Jim Claffy

This sounds about right to me. As time passes, and the virus ebbs and flows, I am left to wonder how well the vaccine prevents the spread of Covid. Breakthrough infections seem quite common and being vaccinated doesn’t stop you from transmitting the disease. In fact, if you allow for the effects of the vaccine to mitigate the symptoms it is not a stretch to see that the vaccine may contribute to the spread by enabling more infected people to go about their daily routine. So why force people to get vaccinated? What benefit is there for the population as a whole? It is a sincere question, if anyone knows the answer I’d love to hear it.

Bailey Jones

Jim, no vaccine prevents infection - if you define infection as a virus getting into your body. Only physical barriers (masks, etc.) can prevent that. What vaccines do is limit the amount of virus that can grow in your body. But, if you define "infection" as the virus growing in your body and making you sick, then the vaccines absolutely help to prevent infection. Less virus growth means you're less infectious. Obviously, a person sneezing and coughing is more infectious than one who isn't, and people who are vaccinated are much less likely to be sneezing and coughing.

We have to remember what the goal of all of these anti-COVID precautions is. It's not to keep people healthy, it's to keep our healthcare system from being overwhelmed. Vaccinated people are much less likely to develop a serious infection that requires hospitalization. That's why we keep hearing that the vast majority of hospitalizations are among the unvaccinated.

And we should remember that the vaccines we have today were not developed to fight the COVID variant we have today. The vaccines were developed to fight the alpha variant. When is the last time you heard of someone being infected with the alpha variant? The vaccines have done their job - the alpha variant is, for all intents and purposes, no longer a threat. What we're fighting now is the delta variant. The vaccines are less effective against the delta variant than the alpha variant. But they still work.

I think that people get hung up on how probabilities work. We know, for instance, that seatbelts save lives. But not all the time. Even if 100% of the population wore seatbelts 100% of the time, people would still die in car crashes. And if I said "Everybody who died in a car crash last year had their seat belt on - so why require people to wear them?" you would say - "that's idiotic, seat belts save lives". It's the same with anti-COVID precautions. Just because you wear a seat belt doesn't mean you're not going to die in a car crash - and the fact that you might still die doesn't mean that seat belts aren't effective and worth wearing.

We have centuries of experience with vaccines. We eradicated small pox with vaccines - even though you could still get infected if you were vaccinated. Same for every other disease.

There is a measure of the virulence of a disease called the R-alpha factor. This number tells how many people are likely to be infected by each sick person. If R-alpha is larger than 1, the disease spreads through the population. If R-alpha is less than one, the disease will die out. For the alpha variant, R-alpha was something like 1.6 or 1.8 (memory fails). So if I have a precaution that cuts transmissibility in half, R-alpha drops from 1.6 to 0.8 - and the disease will die out. This is what has happened with the alpha variant. But the delta variant has an R-alpha of 6 or so. So, the precautions that worked for the alpha variant don't work nearly as well for the delta variant.

Stopping the delta variant takes all the precautions we have. I'm vaccinated and wear a KN-95 mask at work and when I'm out in public. This seems to be a point of confusion. With the alpha variant and the vaccine, masking, etc,. was no longer required because the vaccine was enough to get the R-alpha number below 1. But it's not sufficient for the delta variant - so we still need everything else - masks, distance, and hand washing. That's what the CDC is recommending - "If you are fully vaccinated, to maximize protection from the Delta variant and prevent possibly spreading it to others, wear a mask indoors in public if you are in an area of substantial or high transmission." Galveston County is an still an area of substantial transmission.

But - and this is the main point - the vaccine is doing its job. Without it, the delta variant would have caused twice as many hospitalizations and we would have overwhelmed our healthcare system - requiring a return to physical lockdowns. Instead, we had a severe surge, but we got it under control as more and more people became vaccinated (and others achieved natural immunity by getting sick).

A couple more points from your post -

Breakthrough infections are not "quite common". You are in fact about 30X less likely to get a symptomatic case if you are vaccinated. But - just like seat belts - the vaccine isn't 100% and some people will still get sick.

Being vaccinated does, in fact, reduce the likelihood that you will infect someone. Recent studies peg the likelihood of infecting someone at 63-89% less if you are vaccinated.

Again, it's a game of percentages. If everyone is vaccinated, then everyone is 63-89% less likely to transmit the disease. Not 100%. But with an R-alpha of 6, and 89% reduction in transmissibility, we get an R-alpha of 0.66, which means that if everyone was vaccinated, the virus would die off.

That's why we need everyone vaccinated.

Carlos Ponce

"That's why we need everyone vaccinated." Where and when did Bailey get a medical degree? Real doctors know their patients and will provide advice depending upon their medical history.

Jim Claffy

Bailey, I appreciate you taking the time to make a case in defense of vaccine mandates and I understand your argument. In an ideal world (I.e. completely effective vaccine, 100% safe, stationary target, truly altruistic government, worldwide consensus, etc.) you might convince most people to voluntarily take the vaccine. But circumstances are far from ideal and are quite complicated. To take away a person’s livelihood because they reasonably question the risks of getting vaccinated is too heavy-handed in my opinion. In America, personal liberty and autonomy should be respected.

Carlos Ponce

I asked about Shriner's across the street from UTMB which relies on donations, not Federal programs for funding. Employees have a choice of vaccinations or testing. That's based on the SCIENCE.

Jim Forsythe

Carlos, this is the policy that Shriners Hospital is using.

Posted: Nov 4, 2021 / 05:44 PM EDT /

Staff members at Shriners Hospital have about a month to get vaccinated against COVID-19 or risk losing their job.

Those workers were informed of a December 6th deadline in a recent letter.

Spokesman Mel Bower said that like more pediatric healthcare providers, Shriners is putting the vaccine requirement in place. He insists that the impact will be minimal, involving fewer than 10 employees at this point.

Carlos Ponce

Jim, Jim, Jim... That's Shriner's Hospital in Erie PA, NOT Galveston, TX. Do you need a map?

https://www.yourerie.com/health/coronavirus/your-local-vaccine-hq/shriners-hospital-imposes-covid-19-vaccine-mandate/

Ted Gillis

Good, then all those people who are being let go from UTMB can go to work at Shriners. Problem solved.

Carlos Ponce

They're not hiring, Ted. But this shows each hospital's priorities.

Jim Forsythe

Staff members at Shriners Hospital have about a month to get vaccinated against COVID-19

Carlos Ponce

Not what I heard from staff members, Jim. What you post may be true of Shriner Hospitals in other locations, states, (such as Shriner's Hospital of Erie, PA) but not Galveston.

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