The Pfizer vaccine is readied for use during a free COVID-19 vaccination event held at New Horizon Church International in partnership with the Mississippi State Department of Health, Wednesday, August 4, 2021 in Jackson. Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines were available to those 12 years of age and older. Credit: Vickie D. King/Mississippi Today

Weeks after it banned COVID-19 vaccine mandates for the state’s colleges and universities, the Institutions of Higher Learning Board of Trustees voted Monday to direct employees to receive the vaccine.

This comes in response to an executive order from the Biden administration issued two nearly two months ago, which mandates employees of federal contractors get the COVID-19 vaccine.

All employees at Mississippi public universities, except those that work in an “exempt remote workplace” or have a qualified religious or medical exemption, are now required to be fully vaccinated by Dec. 8.

That means employees must schedule their first shot by Oct. 27 if they are getting the Moderna vaccine or by Nov. 3 if they are receiving Pfizer.

Trustee Gee Ogletree said the board was “required to act quickly based on the new information provided to it,” though the executive order’s deadlines were made public on Sept. 24.

Ogletree made the long, eight-part motion, which passed 9-3 over the objections of trustees Teresa Hubbard, Jeanne Luckey and Gregory Rader. They wanted to postpone a vote so they had more time to consider the motion, which Hubbard said the board did not receive until 11:30 p.m. on Sunday. 

“I have never received an official copy of this motion from anybody,” Luckey said. 

“I personally don’t even know what this motion says,” Hubbard said. “It’s very difficult for me to determine what we’re trying to accomplish with this when we’ve had very little time to process it.” 

By directing the public universities to follow President Joe Biden’s executive order, the IHL board is going back on its prior decision to ban the institutions from mandating the COVID vaccine. It was initially unclear if the executive order, handed down on Sept. 9, would apply to colleges and universities. Ogletree said the board “chose to wait for further and more definitive clarification.” 

“The IHL board does not support a federally imposed COVID-19 mandate but has been and is supportive of medical and religious exemptions to the mandate,” he said. 

By the time the board got clarification from the federal government on Sept. 24, which set the Dec. 8 deadline, it had already already taken a new vote to ban the institutions from mandating the COVID-19 vaccine. 

The executive order applies because Mississippi’s public universities have about 120 federal contracts totalling $271 million in funding, Ogletree said at the meeting. All eight institutions have federal contractors or employees working in conjunction with federal contractors. 

If Biden’s executive order is stayed or reversed, the IHL board’s motion contains a provision reverting to the Sept. 17 guidance. 

After the executive order was announced, Gov. Tate Reeves has said he intended to be among a group of Republican governors who would sue the president to block a vaccine mandate. 

READ MORE: Gov. Tate Reeves, upset over Biden’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate, says he will sue


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Molly Minta covers higher education for Mississippi Today. She works in partnership with Open Campus, a nonprofit news organization focused on investigating higher education. Originally from Melbourne Beach, Florida, Molly reported on public housing and prosecutors in her home state and worked as a fact-checker at The Nation before joining Mississippi Today. Her story on Mississippi's only class on critical race theory was a finalist for the Education Writers Association National Awards for Education Reporting in 2023 in the feature reporting category.