Dr. Andrew Agwunobi, UConn, vaccine, staff
Interim UConn President Dr. Andrew Agwunobi at a press conference in July. Credit: Hugh McQuaid / CTNewsJunkie

Staff and faculty at the University of Connecticut and UConn Health will be required to be fully vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus by October 15 under a negotiated policy announced Wednesday. 

The new requirement is similar to a rule for on-campus students adopted by the school’s Board of Trustees back in June, in that it allows staff to apply for both medical and non-medical deferrals to the vaccine requirement. Staff will have until Sept. 1 to apply for an exemption or show proof of their first dose.

“As you are aware, at the University of Connecticut and UConn Health, our primary goal during this pandemic is to keep all employees, students, and patients safe,” Dr. Andrew Agwunobi, UConn’s interim president wrote in a staff email. “This is particularly important given the rise of the Delta variant and the upcoming start of in-person classes. To this end, we are writing to announce that in addition to our student vaccine mandate, UConn and UConn Health are now requiring that currently active and new employees be fully vaccinated against COVID-19.”

The memorandum of understanding defines acceptable reasons for deferrals, including “strongly-held” religious or spiritual beliefs, a doctor’s advice, pregnancy or breastfeeding, or a recent positive COVID test. Employees granted deferrals will be subject to at least weekly testing requirements. The policy applies to the school’s entire workforce, including contractors and volunteers, and violations can result in disciplinary action including dismissal. 

There are roughly 9,800 UConn employees working on the university’s main and regional campuses, according to a spokesperson. UConn Health has an additional 4,700 employees. 

According to a post on UConn-AAUP, a union representing the university’s faculty, the negotiated agreement was finalized on Friday. 

“We believe this agreement, along with the mandatory vaccination of students, provides the best opportunity to keep the University community healthy and to fight back this latest surge of the Delta variant,” the union’s leadership wrote on its website. 

On Monday, a federal court judge upheld the school’s student vaccination requirement by dismissing a lawsuit brought by three students or their families. In that case, a lawyer for the students called the student requirement arbitrary in part because it did not apply to the school’s staff. State lawyers countered by arguing the school had not ruled out a staff mandate.

During the case, the university reported that it had been lenient in granting non-medical exemptions to students who applied for them. As of last month, 504 of 771 requests for non-medical exemptions had been granted. A spokesperson for the school said that 96% of the 11,000 students expected to live on the Storrs campus were either partially or fully vaccinated as of this week. About 92% of incoming students at the Stamford campus were at least partially vaccinated.