ETSU memo: Federal rule could require COVID vaccine for hundreds of employees

Local Coronavirus Coverage

JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – Hundreds of East Tennessee State University employees may fall under a federal COVID-19 vaccine mandate according to an Oct. 26 memo prepping faculty and staff for the possibility.

The memo from President Brian Noland’s office references President Joe Biden’s Sept. 9 Executive Order 14042. That order requires federal contractors to meet “certain safety standards issued by the Safer Federal Workforce Taskforce.”

A follow-up to the order, released Sept. 24, includes “a broad scope of workplace safety protocols” specific to federal contractors and subcontractors. One “potentially required” protocol, the memo says, is a vaccine mandate for covered contractor employees.

What that means for ETSU is still unclear, the memo says. The university administers federal contracts totaling close to $40 million and those funds “support hundreds of jobs across our campus.”

The memo specifically mentions the Quillen College of Medicine as well as ETSU’s relationship with the Department of Veterans Affairs.

States’ rights, special session could play a role

While ETSU is “actively working to evaluate the impact of this federal directive,” the memo says, actions at the state level could complicate matters. A special session of the Tennessee General Assembly that begins Wednesday centers around potential legislation related to COVID-19 policies including those related to vaccines.

The session’s outcome “may offer guidance or direction that impacts our path forward,” the memo says.

But ETSU does expect it will fall under the federal mandate and whatever specifics result.

If state lawmakers’ direction seems to leave ETSU and other state universities the difficult choice of flouting federal mandates or facing state sanctions, services the university provides to veterans and other community members may hang in the balance.

The memo mentions those programs specifically and calls it “imperative that we do everything we can to maintain federal support for critical programs in our community.”

ETSU’s legal team is continuing its due diligence and the memo says it will keep faculty and staff informed as details and guidance become clearer. It also “strongly encourages” vaccination for those among the ETSU community who haven’t yet gotten the jab.

ETSU Chief Marketing and Communications Officer Jessica Vodden, who emailed the memo to News Channel 11, said the university doesn’t yet have enough information to offer interviews or provide a detailed news release.

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