Healey expands call for mandatory vaccinations

Backs requiring inoculations for health care workers

ATTORNEY GENERAL Maura Healey, who has said COVID-19 vaccinations should be required for public employees, indicated on Wednesday that she believes inoculations should be mandatory for at least some private workers as well. She specifically mentioned health care workers.

The issue has become a key philosophical difference between Healey and Gov. Charlie Baker, who has said he would not favor mandatory vaccinations for public employees (“It’s still a free country, last I checked,” he said) and would leave decisions about private employees to individual employers.

The three major COVID-19 vaccinations being distributed in the United States are all being used under emergency use authorization, meaning they have not been formally approved by the Food and Drug Administration but are being used to address a public health emergency. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the vaccines should be administered voluntarily.

In remarks to the New England Council, Healey said mandatory vaccinations are just common sense. “We require flu shots. We require certain vaccinations. We require a hep-B [hepatitis-B] shot if you work in a hospital. I just look at what’s happened across the country, the hundreds of thousands of deaths. … People have suffered so much. … To me it’s a war time effort. Everybody’s got to step in and do their part and doing your part means getting vaccinated. That’s just my general view of this.”

She specifically mentioned correctional officers, public safety workers, police, firefighters, and health care workers who work at the bedsides of patients. “To me, it’s just the responsible and right thing to do,” she said.

“It’s concerning if people who are charged with the care of others aren’t themselves vaccinated, when, as I say, they’re required to get a hep-B shot, a flu shot,” she said.

It’s not clear hospital workers in Massachusetts are required to get Hepatitis-B or flu shots. According to the CDC, 10 states require hospital employees to receive the Hepatitis-B vaccine; Massachusetts is not one of them. Seventeen states, including Massachusetts, require hospitals to offer influenza shots to employees. In Massachusetts, hospital employees can decline to take the flu shot without citing a legal exception.

Individual hospitals may require employees to receive hepatitis-B and flu shots. Valerie Fleishman, senior vice president and chief innovation officer at the Massachusetts Health & Hospital Association, issued a statement indicating some hospitals are likely to require employees to obtain COVID-19 vaccinations.

“As hospitals pursue every measure to protect their patients and workers, many of them will likely implement mandatory vaccination policies for employees at some point moving forward. Many organizations already require employees to get an annual flu shot, which is a basic but powerful public health measure – especially for those in close contact with patients,” she said. “As of now, hospitals remain focused on addressing vaccine hesitancy among the general public, enhancing vaccine access within hard-hit communities, and providing educational opportunities for employees who have not yet been vaccinated.”

Healey has indicated in previous comments that those who refuse to be inoculated should lose their jobs. On Wednesday, she stressed that the law allows for exceptions to be made for people with disabilities or genuinely held religious beliefs. She also said she recognizes that vaccine hesitancy is a legitimate issue for many people, particularly for people of color.

Asked what she would do if an employee refuses to be vaccinated, she said each situation would have to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. “You have to get into the weeds on some of this,” she said.

“We’ve got to do this,” she said. “It’s a matter of common sense. It’s a matter of a team effort. I mean, don’t you want to get back to concerts? Don’t people want to get back to being able to visit family or vacation or resume life in some normalcy? And this is important, this is important as we’ve seen the mutations spread. I’m just a JD. I’m not an MD or public health expert, but I’m listening to them.”

She said she “trusts” Anthony Fauci, the director of the US National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases; CDC Director Rochelle Walensky; and science.

Healey, who many believe is prepping for a run for governor, continues to raise money at a fast pace.  Campaign finance records indicate she raised $121,387 in April, bringing her cash on hand to $3.1 million. Baker raised $9,429 last month, bringing his cash on hand to $520,099. Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito, who is expected to run for governor if Baker steps down, raised $16,843 last month, bringing her cash on hand to just over $2 million.

Ben Downing, the only declared candidate for governor, raised $39,063 in April, bringing his total cash on hand to $107,725. Danielle Allen, who is exploring a run for governor, raised $65,488 in April, raising her cash on hand to $236,425.