IDAHO FALLS — After roughly a year since the Idaho National Laboratory set in place a COVID-19 vaccine requirement as a condition of employment, the mandate has been lifted.
The announcement was sent in an emailed message dated Oct. 6, 2022. It was addressed to all INL employees from INL Director John Wagner.
“We introduced this requirement to decrease COVID-19 rates among our staff and to comply with an executive order,” Wagner writes. “At the time, the delta variant was filling local hospital beds. Healthcare workers were overwhelmed, and the prospect of rationing care was very real.”
Wagner goes on to explain that “COVID-19 was an enormous threat” to the lab. Employees had to quarantine regularly, and the workforce experienced serious illness and death, according to the letter.
“The vaccination requirement fulfilled its purpose,” Wagner explains. “Vaccination rates among INL employees increased. Serious illness decreased. This allowed us to continue our important mission work and protect the health, safety and well-being of our employees.”
Wagner believes the vaccine requirement was the correct decision to enforce but notes “today, our circumstances are much different.”
He points out that at the INL, in local communities, across Idaho and around the nation, COVID-19 is “far less of a threat than it was a year ago.”
“The reduced spread of the virus no longer requires the actions taken a year ago,” Wagner states. “And so, while we strongly recommend the COVID-19 vaccine for those who work at INL and believe it is important to reduce the risk of serious illness, we no longer are requiring it as a condition of employment.”
John Bess is a former distinguished researcher in nuclear science and technology at the INL who also represented the United States as chairman for international benchmark projects with an organization in France. Last fall, he told EastIdahoNews.com he was being terminated from the INL after the INL twice denied his religious exemption from getting the COVID-19 vaccine.
Bess told EastIdahoNews.com this week that even though the INL dropped its vaccine requirement, it “doesn’t change the fact they discriminated against their employee’s beliefs.”
“It doesn’t change the truth of the matter, which is that they mistreated, persecuted and terminated so many employees, coerced others to forego their freedoms and beliefs, and strong-armed many into early retirement,” he says. “Patting themselves on the back doesn’t fix the damage they’ve done to our community. This just shows how much of a coward and a bully they really are. They are not an actual leader that reflects what Idaho stands for. It is time for the Battelle Energy Alliance regime to step down from mismanaging Idaho National Laboratory.”
In Wagner’s email, he says he understands this decision will receive mixed reactions.
“I believe we need to remain consistent with both the process and intent when we announced our decision last fall,” Wagner mentions. “The best information available tells us that now is the time to lift the requirement.”
EastIdahoNews.com reached out to the INL about this announcement and is expecting a response next week.