« [If] you will sign up for public works and receive a paycheck from the taxpayers of this state who have sacrificed and lost so much. . . [and] you can’t get the vaccine? It’s irresponsible, ”Healey said on GBH’s Boston Public Radio, while recognizing that some may have health problems that prevent them from getting vaccinated.
While public attention has been focused on the stampede of people trying to schedule vaccine appointments, there are also a significant number of the unvaccinated, including people whose work puts them in close contact with the vaccine. the public and potentially the virus.
The Globe reported last week that 30% of state police 2,850 employees were not vaccinated at clinics run by the department, although department officials said they knew some had made appointments elsewhere. And more than half of Corrections Department employees turned down the state’s offer to get the COVID-19 vaccine at work.
Now, a Globe survey of nearly two dozen of the state’s largest police, fire and emergency medical services shows many more are refusing to be vaccinated through their employers. About 54% of Boston Police employees have booked vaccinations through the department, although their medical staff estimate that an additional 20% have sought doses at other clinics, based on an informal investigation by the department.
At this rate, about 750 – one in four of its 2,890 employees – would not be vaccinated. According to data provided by each agency, only 63% of the city’s 1,460 firefighters are vaccinated, as are 73% of Boston EMS workers.
Vaccination rates varied widely in other public safety agencies, with some, such as Cambridge Police and Fire Departments, reporting over 80% or nearly 90% of employees vaccinated. But during the Springfield fire and the New Bedford and Fall River Police Departments, officials said 50% or less of employees received vaccines through their departments – which arranged for appointments. for them from January – although the figures do not take into account those who received doses. in other clinics.
Some public safety officials said they understood why employees might be reluctant to get vaccinated.
“Making the decision to take the vaccine is a very personal decision,” said Boston Police Detective Jeffrey Lopes, president of the Massachusetts Association of Minority Law Enforcement Officers. “It’s something that you allow a healthcare professional to put into your body. It’s something you have to be okay with.
Lopes, who received a vaccine, said a warrant might have been well intentioned, “but I don’t know if it’s doable. “
In hospitals and nursing homes, the majority of staff have been vaccinated, state data shows, but injection rates drop to 60% in some facilities where suspicious immigrant workers with regard to the government and the health system, have held back.
Lou Woolf, president of Hebrew SeniorLife, said the numbers are worrying enough that his facilities make it clear to new employees that they should get the vaccine. It’s voluntary now, but Woolf expects to make vaccination mandatory soon.
“It’s the right thing to do,” he said. “We have to do whatever we can. . . to protect our residents, families and staff.
The reasons people choose not to get the vaccine can range from mistrust of one’s safety or the government, to not rushing to be among the first to get it. Some may also have health issues or religious beliefs that prevent them from being vaccinated.
Gov. Charlie Baker, in an interview last week, said he would not rule out a state vaccination warrant at a later date. But he has expressed little enthusiasm for it, saying he would rather “push” reluctant residents to get vaccinated. He also said a warrant would require new law.
“And several people on my team have questioned the constitutionality of this one,” Baker said, later adding: “I think the biggest opportunity here is to get people to do it because they want to protect themselves, their friends and their family. And I think that strategy, in the end, will pay off based on everything we see.
Baker said residents hostile to vaccines, especially people of color who have faced historic discrimination in health care, “have legitimate reasons” to be suspicious. “And I would much rather try to get them to do it at some point because their church leader or doctor or neighbor or sister or brother gets vaccinated” rather than having the state try to force them.
Over 1.1 million Massachusetts residents are fully immunized and another 900,000 have received the first doses on two-dose immunization schedules, state data shows. The state’s goal is to vaccinate about 4.1 million residents by July 4.
Healey said she believed employees facing the public state police and prison workers should be required to be vaccinated. But she noted that she was not giving legal advice. “I answer this question as a question of what is fair, practical and common sense,” she said in the GBH interview.
Gerard Mahoney, acting Cambridge fire chief, said he agreed that people in public safety should be vaccinated, although he questioned whether collective bargaining could hamper a mandate.
“I can’t understand why someone working in public safety wouldn’t benefit from the vaccine,” said Mahoney, whose department’s vaccination rate of 87 percent was the highest of 23 agencies polled by the Globe.
Woolf at Hebrew SeniorLife would like the Baker administration to institute a state mandate covering all long-term care workers. Otherwise, he fears nursing homes, rehab hospitals, affordable housing and retirement communities that impose mandates on their own. could lose employees to other facilities.
The possibility of a warrant was raised with officials from the State Department of Public Health during meetings of a vaccine advisory committee, but officials did not commit to it.
One hurdle some have cited is that, unlike flu shots, which were needed in the past, COVID-19 vaccines have yet to gain full approval from the Food and Drug Administration. The drug agency has cleared the vaccines only for emergency use until it reviews more data. Once that happens, perhaps in the coming weeks, the pressure for a state mandate could intensify.
Nationally, while a small number of medical offices and other employers have issued vaccination warrants, most encourage employees to get vaccinated voluntarily, at least for now, said Michelle Strowhiro, partner. based in Los Angeles in the practice of employment law at McDermott Will & Emery. , who heads the company’s COVID-19 task force.
Strowhiro said federal law does not prevent employers from imposing warrants if a vaccine is available through the emergency use clearance from the FDA. But she said federal anti-discrimination law requires employers to make exceptions to mandates for workers with certain health conditions, disabilities or religious beliefs. This might require human resources and legal staff to take care of compliance.
Another factor is that dozens of states, but not Massachusetts, are considering legislation that would prohibit employers from requiring workers to be vaccinated.
And Strowhiro said an employer could face a tough challenge in trying to enforce a vaccination mandate.
“The reality may be that a significant portion of the workforce does not want the vaccine. Are they really going to lay off 40% of the employees if they don’t get it? ” she said.
A The century-old United States Supreme Court case known as Jacobson v. Massachusetts, provides a precedent for a state vaccination mandate. In 1905, the court ruled that it was within the power of a state “to enact a law on compulsory vaccination” and that individual freedoms could be restricted to protect public health in general.
Today, courts would likely apply a higher legal bar to any vaccination mandate, requiring that a state government have a compelling interest in imposing one, said Kent Greenfield, a professor of law at Boston College. But, he said, getting herd immunity from a pandemic that has changed lives around the world is probably convincing enough.
“I think the state could answer that,” Greenfield said.
Baker said he would like to see federal guidance on the issue of warrants. But so far, the Biden administration has taken an encouraging but non-mandate posture.
Anissa Gardizy of Globe staff contributed to this report.