Gov. Tom Wolf’s order to some 25,000 state workers to get vaccinated against COVID-19 faces pushback from a state senator and the union representing state corrections officers.
The Democratic governor has ordered commonwealth employees in state health care facilities and high-risk congregate care facilities to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by September 7. Those who are not vaccinated will be required to undergo weekly COVID-19 testing. Starting the same day, all new external hires for these facilities must be vaccinated before beginning work.
The order affects employees at state hospitals, facilities for people with intellectual disabilities, veterans homes, community health centers. and correction institutions.
It’s a decision some Republicans reject as an unbearable breach of personal liberty.
“Governor Wolf has yet again crossed a line with his decision to force 25,000 state employees to be vaccinated,” state Sen. Mike Regan (R-Cumberland/York) said in a statement. “He should not be targeting these individuals based on the location or title of their job – jobs that many of us would not willingly choose to do under normal circumstances.”
Regan notes many employers are having difficulty finding workers and argues that the executive order is a violation of personal medical freedom.
“Employers are currently struggling to fill positions, yet the governor is now going to risk losing dedicated employees at our state hospitals, centers for people with intellectual disabilities, veterans’ homes, community health centers, and state correction institutions,” he said.
“These workers show up day-in and day-out and perform physically and mentally demanding jobs, often making split-second life or death decisions about the people they are charged with taking care of. Yet the governor feels they cannot make their own health care decisions about what does or does not go into their bodies.
“Personal health freedom has been thrown out the window, with this un-American heavy-handed attempt at controlling Pennsylvanians,” said Regan.
Lyndsay Kensinger, a spokeswoman for the governor retorted, “The senator’s statement makes it clear that he hasn’t actually read or doesn’t understand the policy.”
Wolf defended his decision. “As a leading employer in Pennsylvania, the commonwealth must stand up and provide an example for other businesses to follow. It is vitally important that employees have the confidence that they can safely work and serve their fellow Pennsylvanians. Even more importantly, we hope this incentive will help Pennsylvanians stay healthy and safe from dangerous variants of COVID-19,” Wolf said.
The Pennsylvania State Corrections Officers Association isn’t on board.
“Your decision this week to mandate vaccinations and/or testing is a slap in the face – and, frankly, way too late because thousands of our members already have been infected, due to your inaction,” PSCOA President John Eckenrode said in a letter to Wolf,
“This is the latest episode of what has been a woefully inconsistent vaccination/testing/masking policy by this administration in our state prisons. PSCOA has instructed legal counsel to challenge this latest proposed policy change. We have always believed receiving the COVID-19 vaccine should be a choice for all Americans, but Corrections employees who want it should be prioritized, given our work conditions,” he said.
Eckenrode added, “To date, nearly 3,700 Corrections employees have been infected, but the truth is we expect the number is significantly higher and many more have attained natural immunity. Yet for some unknown reason, natural immunity is being ignored by federal health officials and this administration.
“A study done in February in Nature used antibody screenings from California and found seven times as many cases as those that were confirmed.
“Researchers from Washington University in St. Louis reported that mild infection immune cells were still capable of producing protective antibodies after 11 months. They concluded that natural immunity to COVID-19 is probably lifelong.”
And the guards are required to wear masks, while inmates are not, Eckenrode noted.
So far, more than 63 percent of Pennsylvanians age 18 and older are fully vaccinated, with the state ranking fifth for total doses administered. All Pennsylvanians ages 12 and older are eligible to schedule a COVID-19 vaccine.