Public Employees Should Be Vaccinated, Good Call Governor and Mayor

Hawaii residents complained about the state shutting down the economy and closing down tourism. Currently, Hawaii is experiencing all-time high rates of COVID-19 infections and hospitals are once again approaching all-time high capacity due to excess of COVID-19 patients.

Do we want to go back to shutting down our state, tourism and stopping whatever economic recovery we’ve made in recent months?

No.

Do we want to get back to pre-COVID days as soon as possible.

Yes.We also know that the best hope for accomplishing that, being able to return to normalcy, is for residents to get vaccinated. And vaccinations have been proven to be safe with very rare exceptions.

Taking a look at the big picture, Gov. David Ige and county mayors were right to take a bold move to require that all public workers be vaccinated by mid-August to stop the spread of the virus.

And yes, they even included exemptions from this requirement for medical or religious reasons. So there is sensitivity and reason to this mandate.

As part of the new emergency pandemic proclamation by the Governor, these are the public employees who must get vaccinated:  teachers, corrections officers, first responders such as police and emergency medical technicians, government office workers, professors and staff of the University of Hawaii and guards throughout the state’s correctional system.

At a new press conference, Gov. Ige said, “The number of cases and hospitalizations are all trending up — dramatically. The highly contagious delta variant creates a big risk of infection, especially for members of our community who are not vaccinated. Based on the current conditions, I must take action to protect public health and avert unmanageable strains on our health care all across the state.”The Governor also said public workers who refuse to comply with the new mandate could face termination.

Kauai Mayor Derek Kawakami said that given the recent surge in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, “some level of government intervention at this time is necessary.”Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi added a “caveat” for city employees, explaining that his administration intends to require vaccinations for all employees except for those with medical conditions or religious beliefs that prevent vaccination.

Blangiardi said the city will require affidavits to document those issues.The State House also mandated all members and staff be vaccinated. The State Senate is about to do the same. The State Judiciary announced it will soon follow. Honolulu City Council mandated all employees must provide proof of full vaccination (both shots administered) by Sept. 30, 2021.

Already, Hawaii Pacific Health, Kaiser Permanente, The Queen’s Health Systems and Adventist Health Castle announced that they are requiring employees to get vaccinated by the start of October. Additional hospitals and health care providers are expected to follow.

Pushback
What is clearly a responsible directive by the Governor and county mayors, surprisingly, the mandate has been met with some reservations by some of the largest public employees’ unions including HGEA, HSTA, UPW. The unions did not outright oppose the vaccination mandate, but quickly was critical of its rollout. Public sector union heads complained that they were left out of consulting, had concerns about the cost (if public workers do not get vaccinated, they must undergo weekly testing at the employees’ expense), and say there is still confusion about the new rules. President of HSTA Osa Tui Jr. expressed fears that the mandate may cause teachers to leave the state that is already short of qualified teachers.

There was a threat to file a lawsuit from a union representing police officers, firefighters and first responders (as of press time they did not follow through on that threat). Over 1,000 first responder union members said they would enlist in a class-action lawsuit if the union eventually decides to sue. Some union members expressed that they should have a choice to be vaccinated or not.

It’s true that some of these complaints have validity. But if unions say as what they’re claiming — that they’re for vaccination, why all the clamor?

Ultimately, it’s a public health issue. And there are already requirements for other vaccinations for school and sometimes work. This vaccination requirement in theory is no different. Hawaii’s Attorney General’s office said the vaccination mandate is “lawful and constitutional.”

Close to the end of the tunnel
Hawaii residents should be aware that if we make the hard choices now and take the right steps, namely to get vaccinated, we could begin enjoying better days sooner rather than later. But it will take everyone’s cooperation.

The Governor, who at times has been criticized for moving too slow in his handling of COVID last year, should be applauded for making this bold decision, and swiftly at that. All sectors of government (Legislature and Judiciary) and hospitals are following his lead and making mandates of their own.

Unions, most likely, will be in full support of it eventually because it is the right thing to do to have all employees (except those with legitimate health reasons) be vaccinated. It’s for the good of our state and our communities.


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