Hundreds of UAF employees must get their COVID vaccines due to federal funding

aerial photo of buildings and trees
The University of Alaska Fairbanks campus. (University of Alaska)

A large group of University of Alaska Fairbanks employees must get their COVID-19 vaccines by Dec. 8 due to federal contract requirements. Univeristy of Alaska interim President Pat Pitney announced the mandate Tuesday, citing $300 million in recently-renewed, or soon-to-be signed federal contracts.

“With the federal contract provisions that require vaccinations,” Pitney told reporters during an online news conference on Tuesday.

Pitney said the federal contract vaccination requirement applies to a large but defined set of employees estimated to total 2,000. The group includes anyone paid by a federal contact — estimated at more than 750 UAF and UA employees. Plus, it includes “anyone who supports them or works near them,” Pitney said.

The federal contract employee vaccine mandate is in addition to existing UAF vaccination requirements for students living in dorms, those in certain classes where social distancing isn’t practical and student athletes. Noting that while medical and religious exemptions will continue to be offered, UAF Chancellor Dan White said employees covered by the federal contract vaccine requirement must comply to keep their jobs.

“With respect to what happens on December 8th or soon thereafter, this vaccine requirement becomes a condition of employment,” he said.

White said he’s already received some feedback.

“There have been different opinions expressed, but the majority have been support,” he said.

Alaska is challenging federal vaccination mandates and Gov. Mike Dunleavy issued an administrative order Tuesday defending Alaska from quote “federal government overreach.”

Pitney said the university does not fall under the order because it isn’t a state agency, adding that it voluntarily chose to sign the contracts.

“We’ve chosen to protect the jobs of more than 750 individuals and to protect the research mission and in some sense the economy of the state,” she said.

Pitney said she supports state efforts challenging the scope of Biden administration vaccination mandates. She anticipated that U.S. Department of Education funding could also come with a vaccination requirement.

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Correction: This story has been updated to clarify how many university employees the vaccine mandate impacts. It applies to about 2,000 workers — not about 750 — after accounting for those who work with and near staff directly paid through federal grants.

Dan Bross is a reporter at KUAC in Fairbanks.

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