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Chancellor thanks campus, discusses enrollment, vaccinations

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UNMC Chancellor Jeffrey P. Gold, MD, began Sept. 23's all-campus forum by thanking the campus for all they do every day.

During the forum, the chancellor provided fall semester updates and, joined by Jane Meza, PhD, interim executive director for health security for UNMC and the University of Nebraska at Omaha, answered many questions, including those focused on the current status of the COVID-19 pandemic and the campus vaccine program.

UNMC is currently working through requests for exemptions to the medical center’s COVID-19 vaccine requirement, Dr. Meza said.

Watch a recording of the forum here.

Individuals will be notified directly whether their exemption requests, which were due Sept. 15, are granted, Dr. Meza said. Otherwise, all students, faculty and staff are expected to be fully vaccinated by Oct. 22.

Dr. Meza noted that individuals will be given enough notice to at least obtain the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine, and thus achieve fully-vaccinated status by Oct. 22.

Or, if individuals prefer the two-shot vaccines, widely available at many clinics and pharmacies, including grocery stores, "You could easily get that first and second dose of Pfizer before Oct. 22," Dr. Meza said. "However, you would not be fully vaccinated by Oct. 22 with the two-shot vaccines" because full vaccination isn’t reached until two weeks after the final dose.

(The recommended interval between doses is 21 days for Pfizer-BioNTech and 28 days for Moderna, so the timeline to get fully vaccinated with Moderna is 42 days, vs. Pfizer which is 35 days.)

Dr. Gold urges you to do so. He said the medical center will be thoughtful, and "Nebraska nice," in working with the "small number, hopefully none, who choose not to be vaccinated and cannot be granted an exemption. …"

But once the process is completed, and someone chooses to forego vaccination without an exemption, "regrettably, we will initiate a process leading to separation," the chancellor said.

"We are going to do everything humanly possible to not allow that to happen," Dr. Gold said. "But we can’t compromise on this."

In addition to what would be a catastrophic loss of federal contracts and funding, should UNMC not fully vaccinate its campuses, the safety of the med center’s faculty, students, staff and patients has been what Dr. Gold calls "our guiding North Star, and that has not changed."

Currently, more than 90% of employees and nearly 90% of students are vaccinated, Dr. Gold said.

Email healthsecurity@unmc.edu with questions on the process or any pandemic-safety concerns, Dr. Meza said. Please ensure your vaccination information is accurate and up to date in the health tracking system.

Vendors and volunteers also must be vaccinated.

Drs. Gold and Meza noted that nonpharmaceutical interventions, including masks, are still in place on campus, due to the current level of community spread. Nebraska is right about at the national average in cases per 100,000 per day, Dr. Gold said.

A vaccine "booster" is not currently required as part of campus policy. More information on boosters is expected soon, Dr. Gold said, but only those who received Pfizer vaccines will be eligible to receive these first Pfizer boosters. Moderna boosters are likely several weeks behind in the approval process.

Please get your flu shot -- Dr. Gold already received his at the College of Pharmacy. But, it’s a good idea to have some space between your flu shot and a COVID-19 vaccine booster, Dr. Gold said.

The forum also touched on:

  • UNMC set a record for enrollment for the 21st consecutive year;
  • Research awards are down slightly, but that’s only because last year’s record total was an increase of 26% over the previous year;
  • The State of Nebraska once again reporting statewide and county-specific information, "Clearly gives us a better way to navigate through the pandemic,";
  • Booster clinics with the Pfizer product are expected to open Sept. 29, but more information to come as it is available. Yes, UNMC faculty will be eligible for boosters when other teachers are;
  • If you were classified as working from home, with full approval, before the pandemic, an exemption to the vaccine requirement is likely; but if you are working from home as a result of the pandemic, you likely will be expected to be vaccinated;
  • Dr. Gold thanked all those working on diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) initiatives, and hailed the Giver Her a Reason to Stay in Healthcare gender-equity campaign as something the medical center is committed to carrying forward;
  • UNMC’s strategic planning process is in the "big rocks stage," working on several big ideas that will go into future strategic plans;
  • Look for more information on the upcoming University of Nebraska Foundation capital campaign;
  • A climate survey is coming from the Office of the President in the next several weeks. Dr. Gold asks as a special favor that we take the time to work on it thoughtfully;
  • Once again, the chancellor asked that we care for ourselves and each other: "We have many resources for students, faculty, staff, that are available. Please use them. We need to continue to destigmatize these conversations, so people feel open to ask for help. Ask your co-worker, your colleague, how are you doing today, what can I do for you?"

The chancellor closed with thanks:

"I appreciate you and your family for allowing us to continue to move the University of Nebraska Medical Center and all of our clinical partners forward," he said. "I am well aware of how much stress and how difficult this time has been. But I also am aware of how much success has been achieved …

"The points of pride are absolutely amazing, and they all come from dedicated, hard, day after day work. Thank you."

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