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Sedgwick County Commission mandates COVID vaccine for county health workers

Nadya Faulx

The new policy mandates the vaccine for employees of the county health department and the county’s COMCARE program.

About 550 Sedgwick County health employees are now required to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.

The Sedgwick County Commission unanimously approved a policy on Wednesday that mandates the vaccine for employees of the county health department and the county’s COMCARE program.

“The only (county health employees) that would not be included in the mandate is if they are 100% remote and not interacting with the public or other staff,” said Anna Meyerhoff-Cole, deputy chief human resources officer for the county.

The policy comes after the U.S. Supreme Court recently upheld a federal vaccine requirement for health care workers at Medicare and Medicaid-certified facilities.

Republican Commissioner Jim Howell said he didn’t agree with the mandate but feared the county could lose Medicare and Medicaid funding if it didn’t accept it.

“There’s the danger of taking $11.8 million in federal money,” he said. “They control us.”

With multiple county departments short-staffed, Howell also said he hopes the county can find ways to accommodate employees who refuse the vaccine.

The policy allows employees to request medical and religious exemptions. A recent state law makes it easy for employees to file and receive a religious exemption.

County health employees with exemptions must wear a mask while working.

Nonexempt employees need to receive either one dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine or two doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine by Feb. 28.

The mandate does not require booster shots.

County officials said they do not have current vaccination rates for employees affected by the new mandate but will collect that information now that the policy is in place.

About 53% of Sedgwick County residents 5 and older are fully vaccinated. The CDC reports that rate is about 67% for the whole country.

Daniel Caudill reports on Kansas state government for Kansas Public Radio and the Kansas News Service. He was a general assignment reporter for KMUW and a reporter, photographer and digital content manager for The Derby Informer and an editor and reporter for The Sunflower. In the spring of 2020, Daniel helped cover the legislative session in Topeka as an intern for the Kansas News Service. You can follow him on Twitter @CaudillKMUW.