Baker orders state employees to be vaccinated

In policy shift, governor sets Oct. 17 deadline

GOV. CHARLIE BAKER ordered all state employees to be fully vaccinated by October 17 or face disciplinary action or dismissal, with exceptions only for those with medical disabilities or sincerely held religious beliefs.

Baker issued his executive order Thursday, one day after he had hinted that a change in his thinking on mandatory vaccinations was coming. Baker previously had opposed requiring state employees to be vaccinated, particularly when the vaccines are currently authorized only for emergency use.

But over the last two weeks pressure has intensified at the state and national level for mandatory vaccinations as the best way to bring the state out from under the grip of the Delta variant of COVID-19. Baker’s position had also been evolving. Earlier this month he ordered all staff at nursing homes to be vaccinated as a way to help protect the elderly residents they care for.

His new order in some ways is more stringent than what other officials and agencies have done with their vaccine mandates. The order allows exemptions for medical disabilities or religious beliefs, but does not allow state employees to substitute regular testing in place of an inoculation.

The governor’s order and accompanying press release also drop any concern about the emergency use authorization, noting that “vaccines are safe and effective” and “satisfy US Food and Drug Administration rigorous scientific standards.” The order also notes that “negative side effects have proven exceedingly rare.”

The governor’s order applies to more than 40,000 state employees working in-person and remotely and it also urges the Legislature, the judiciary, other constitutional officers, state authorities, independent agencies, and all public higher education institutions to follow suit. It is unclear how many state employees have been vaccinated.

Massachusetts state Auditor Suzanne Bump and Treasurer Deborah Goldberg earlier announced mandatory vaccine policies. Attorney General Maura Healey as early as April was calling for vaccinating all public employees.

Senate President Karen Spilka applauded the governor’s order and said a Senate working group is considering a mandate of its own. “I expect this group to issue its recommendations very soon,” she said.

Until now, Baker has generally resisted imposing vaccine mandates, saying he would rather focus on making vaccines as easily accessible as possible. Asked in May whether he would mandate vaccines for public workers, he said he would not.

“The idea that I would kick somebody out of a job — and especially in the kind of economy we have now — because, quote unquote, they wouldn’t get vaccinated right away on an EUA-approved vaccine…No. I’m not gonna play that game,” Baker said. “I think what we ought to be doing is making it easier for people and creating positive opportunities for people to get vaccinated and make clear to people that this is safe, it is effective.” EUA is a reference to emergency use authorization.

Baker in May also acknowledged public uncertainty about vaccines. “There are a bunch of people hesitant about this who have very good reasons for being hesitant about this,” Baker said. “And the idea that we would take those folks and basically make them choose between their rent and their food on the table and all the rest when they have, in some cases, very legitimate reasons to be nervous about a government-run program that’s going to put a shot in their arm, no, I’m not going there. I’m not going there.”

Meet the Author

Bruce Mohl

Editor, CommonWealth

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

State House News Service reported that some bargaining units embraced the move, but the Massachusetts Correction Officers Federated Union said it was “deeply disappointed” by the order, and felt Baker had gone back on his word to allow employees to make their own decision about whether to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

“We feel this Executive Order fails to uphold your individual rights and is unconstitutional,” the MCOFU executive board wrote in a memo to members Thursday.

The board said it has “begun the process of pursuing all legal and legislative remedies at our disposal, up to and including an injunction in court.”