Mayo Clinic is “transitioning to the next phase of its COVID-19 vaccination program” as it tells the almost 9,000 of its 73,000 employees to get the shot by January or lose their jobs.

Staff members were informed on Wednesday that employees who are not exempt for medical or religious reasons and not vaccinated by December face a month of unpaid leave. If they continue to refuse the vaccine before January, Mayo Clinic will terminate them.

Mayo Clinic did not respond when asked if the vaccine requirement applies to contractors that work on site, like food service workers, or if it applies to the hundreds of people who volunteer at the clinic.

In a statement, the clinic acknowledged that the number of unvaccinated employees has decreased from 16,498 in July to 8,978 employees today. Mayo Clinic began its employee vaccination program in December 2020.

“It's encouraging that overall staff vaccination rates for COVID-19 increased from 77.4 percent to 87.7 percent with Mayo's participation program for COVID-19 vaccination that was announced in July,” according to the statement by Mayo spokesperson Kelley Luckstein. “However, based on the percentage of staff who remain unvaccinated and in consideration of the safety of our patients, staff, visitors and communities, Mayo Clinic is transitioning to the next phase of its COVID-19 vaccination program, with vaccination required to continue to work at Mayo Clinic.”

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Mayo did not respond to questions for details about how an employee would qualify for a religious exemption.

“A review process will be available for staff to seek medical or religious exemptions to vaccination,” wrote Luckstein.

This next phase of Mayo Clinic’s employee vaccination policy comes as federal mandates requiring all health care workers to be vaccinated are anticipated to be announced soon.

Rochester's other major health provider -- Olmsted Medical Center -- has vaccination deadlines this week for employees.

"OMC has implemented a COVID-19 vaccine mandate to ensure that our patients, families, and visitors can have confidence in us as their healthcare provider. As of October 15, OMC employees who are fully vaccinated are considered in full compliance with OMC’s COVID-19 Vaccination Policy. Employees who are not vaccinated by October 15 will be required to comply with the requirements of a monitoring process until they are fully vaccinated," stated OMS spokesperson Barb Sorensen. "Employees who have submitted a written request for a medical or religious exemption by October 15, will be notified of its acceptance or rejection following committee review. If the exemption request is declined, the employee will be required to submit a plan to be vaccinated."