FARGO — All employees of Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Dakota will need to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 or have an approved accommodation by the new year, a company spokesperson confirmed to The Forum Wednesday, Oct. 27.

The new policy, which goes into effect Jan. 1, is a departure from the insurance company's previous policy, which required employees to either be vaccinated or provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test to work in person at the office or with customers.

The change in policy was prompted by Executive Order 14042, which requires prime contractors of the Federal Employee Program to "provide adequate COVID-19 safeguards to their workers". President Joe Biden signed the order Sept. 9.

“We understand the importance of taking this step to meet our federal contractual requirements, but also to do our part as a health care leader to end the fight against COVID-19 in our region,” Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Dakota CEO Dan Conrad stated.

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The new policy, which applies to those working remotely as well, also seeks to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the region. "Getting vaccinated is one of the most important ways we can keep ourselves and our communities healthy in the months ahead and eventually see this pandemic come to an end," Conrad stated.

The company will provide medical or religious accommodations to qualified individuals, the company statement read. Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Dakota employs 856 people, including 644 working in the Peace Garden State and 212 working out of state.

Conrad noted that vaccination against COVID-19 has been shown to reduce treatment costs for the virus and that he hoped the new policy would not have a great impact on employees. “We greatly value and respect our team members and hope that the impact is minimal. Our updated policy builds on our previous requirement to be vaccinated when working in the office and we instituted the new policy because we earnestly believe vaccinations are the best path out of the pandemic," he stated. "We have seen dramatic cost differences between vaccinated and unvaccinated members when it comes to COVID-related treatment and hospitalizations. On behalf of our members, we need to advocate for wide spread vaccinations for a variety of reasons, and reducing COVID-19 health care costs is one of those reasons."

Blue Cross Blue Shield is one of a handful employers in the Fargo-Moorhead area which requires employees to be vaccinated, though several more remain on the fence on the subject.

Sanford Health became the first notable employer in the metro area to mandate vaccines, making the decision in July.

Eventide also requires employees to be fully vaccinated, with the company reporting that 3.1% of employees had been granted an exemption to the mandate. Roughly 40 of Eventide's 1,200 employees left the company as a result, a company spokesperson told The Forum.

Both Ethos Home Care and Hospice as well as Essentia Health have also moved to require COVID-19 vaccination among employees. Gray Television, which operates KVLY, also requires vaccination for those who work on site. Microsoft requires the shot among employees and vendors who enter company facilities.

Other employers, such as Fargo Cass Public Health, ask employees to be fully vaccinated or submit to twice-weekly testing.

Readers can reach InForum reporter Thomas Evanella at tevanella@forumcomm.com or follow him on Twitter @ThomasEvanella