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Oregon Nurses Association Sticks to Opposing Vaccine Mandates, While National Union Supports Them

A growing number of national medical groups support vaccine mandates in health care.

Sixty national medical groups have signed a letter calling for health care and long-term care employers to mandate the COVID-19 vaccine for their workers.

That’s not currently allowed under Oregon law, due to a special exception the Legislature granted in 1989 to people who are licensed as medical providers of some kind.

Notably, the list of signatories on this week’s letter includes the American Nurses Association, which is a national nurses’ labor union.

But in Oregon, the local affiliate of ANA, the Oregon Nurses Association, is not on board with mandates. The ONA says it won’t ask for a change in Oregon’s law, which specifically exempts medical providers from employer-mandated vaccinations.

“ONA is not currently seeking a change to Oregon’s statute prohibiting vaccinations as a condition of employment,” ONA communications director Scott Palmer said in a statement issued July 27 when asked if the national union’s decision had changed ONA’s position.

“We urge all people who can get vaccinated to do so, but we also believe that any mandates related to vaccinations must be the subject of negotiations between employers and represented workers prior to any policy change in a facility....We are deeply concerned that a vaccine mandate outside of contract negotiations will result in more health care workers leaving the bedside at a time when Oregon’s hospitals are already experiencing serious staffing issues.”

A national push for vaccine mandates is growing as the Delta variant of COVID-19 spreads rapidly across the U.S., fueled by people who have not received a shot.

New York City, California and Nevada are working to sidestep the vaccine mandate issue by requiring a vaccine or, alternatively, weekly COVID testing for public employees. The Oregonian reported July 28 that Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler said he would pursue such an approach.