SC pharmaceutical plant to require COVID vaccine for workers

By Michelle Liu

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — A South Carolina-based pharmaceutical manufacturer that has offered coronavirus vaccines to the public and run thousands of COVID-19 tests throughout the pandemic will now require all of its employees to get inoculated.

Nephron Pharmaceuticals Corp. is mandating that all of the company’s nearly 2,000 workers be fully vaccinated or have started a two-dose vaccine series by Aug. 27, unless the employee has “an exemption or reasonable accommodation,” according to CEO Lou Kennedy.

The company is one of the first major businesses in South Carolina, other than hospitals, to publicly declare such a directive. Details of the requirement were shared with The Associated Press ahead of an official announcement Monday.

“As COVID-19 cases, driven by the deadly serious Delta variant, continue to impact communities and businesses alike, we can be one of the first businesses of our size to have a fully-vaccinated workforce,” Kennedy wrote in a company-wide letter.

Kennedy told reporters that employees who are not vaccinated by the deadline and can’t provide a medical or religious exemption will be fired, and she isn’t worried about lawsuits.

“I’ll be very sad if we lose even the first person,” Kennedy said. “I hate that, but we’ve got to do what is right, to keep us healthy so we can keep others healthy.”

Nephron, which makes a number of drugs used to treat COVID-19 patients, is also mandating all visitors, vendors and guests be fully vaccinated. Those who need the shots can get them from Nephron itself, which has run a vaccine site in West Columbia since February.

The company is still compiling data on how many of its workers are vaccinated.

A growing number of hospitals around the state, including the Medical University of South Carolina and Tidelands, have made vaccination a requirement for health care employees. Prisma Health, South Carolina’s largest hospital system, has offered incentives to staffers instead, news outlets have reported.

The Nephron announcement comes as vaccine rates continue to lag. Less than half of eligible South Carolinians were fully vaccinated as of last week, according to data from the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control.

Although most businesses in the state have yet to implement such requirements, the resurgence of the virus with the highly contagious delta variant has prompted many to consider a mandate, S.C. Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Bob Morgan told The Associated Press on Monday.

More and more businesses will likely require employees to be vaccinated, following Nephron’s lead and the expected full approval of the vaccine by the Food and Drug Administration later this fall, Morgan said: “Momentum is growing.”

Lawmakers in the South Carolina Senate did approve a proposal that would prevent employers from requiring COVID-19 vaccines for workers earlier this year. That measure still awaits House action.

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