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Oregon To Require Health Workers, School Staff To Be Vaccinated

A file photo of COVID-19 vaccines.
Kristyna Wentz-Graff/ OPB
/
A file photo of COVID-19 vaccines.

Gov. Kate Brown said the shots will become mandatory no sooner than Oct. 18, and even then only after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration grants full approval for their use.

All Oregon health care workers, as well as K-12 school employees and volunteers, will be required to get fully vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus to keep their jobs, Gov. Kate Brown announced Thursday. But they will have some time to get their shots before the rules go into effect.

“We must proactively implement solutions right now,” Brown said in remarks delivered Thursday morning. “We need every single frontline healthcare worker healthy and available to treat patients. Toward that end, Oregon’s vaccination requirement for healthcare workers will no longer have a testing alternative. Health care workers will be required to be fully vaccinated by Oct. 18 or six weeks after full FDA approval, whichever is later.”

“Oregon schools are opening their doors for full time in-person instruction over the next few weeks. I know many parents are anxious about sending their children back to school and back to the school buildings,” Brown said. “We’ve seen school districts in the South being inundated by COVID-19 with thousands of students in quarantine because they opened without robust safety measures.”

The governor’s office emphasized that masks will also remain part of the state’s strategy to combat the spread of the coronavirus at a time when infections are surging, especially in schools.

“Because children under 12 are still not vaccinated, masks are a critical tool for preventing our children from getting sick at school,” Brown said.

Brown sidestepped a direct answer when asked if she might mandate vaccines for school children older than 12 once the COVID-19 vaccines receive full approval from the Food and Drug Administration. “All options remain on the table,” she said.

Thursday’s announcement of impending vaccine mandates was met with mixed responses across Oregon.

The state’s largest nurses union warned in a statement that the governor’s mandate will prompt some health care workers to leave the profession because they are “deeply opposed to vaccine mandates.”

The Oregon Nurses Association said the vaccination requirement will “put additional pressure on an already dangerous nurse staffing crisis in Oregon.” The union also said the policy is likely to boost vaccination rates.

The statewide teachers union, the Oregon Education Association, expressed support for the plan.

“OEA believes that today’s vaccine requirement will help provide stability for our students this fall and will help improve safety in our schools,” OEA president Reed Scott-Schwalbach said in a statement. “The science is clear. Vaccines, coupled with other proven public health mitigation strategies, are the best way to ensure our schools stay open and are a safe place for students to learn and for educators to teach.”

Brown’s announcement comes at a time when hospital beds are filling up with COVID-19 patients, the vast majority of whom are unvaccinated. Oregon Health & Science University has forecast a dire shortage of medical facilities across the state if infection trends continue. By Labor Day, Oregon will have 400 to 500 fewer staffed hospital beds than patients require, OHSU officials forecast Wednesday.

“The fifth wave of the pandemic in Oregon remains much more severe than previous surges,” Peter Graven, lead data scientist in OHSU’s business intelligence unit, said in a written statement. “Every action to flatten the curve will help us avoid overwhelming our hospitals and ensure all Oregonians have access to medical care when they need it.”

As of Thursday, more than 845 coronavirus patients were hospitalized in Oregon. A third of the state’s intensive care capacity is taken up by COVID-19 patients, according to OHSU.

Last week, Brown reinstated a mask mandate for all indoor public spaces. This week she’s bringing in the National Guard to help hospital workers.

In Washington, Gov. Jay Inslee announced on Wednesday that anybody working in a that state’s schools must be vaccinated.

Oregon’s largest school district, Portland Public Schools, has also announced a vaccine requirement for its employees.

Watch Thursday’s press conference with Brown and Oregon officials:


Copyright 2021 Oregon Public Broadcasting. To see more, visit Oregon Public Broadcasting.

Erin Ross, Courtney Sherwood, Jeff Thompson