Gov. Kate Brown on Thursday moved to effectively strike down a 30-year-old Oregon law exempting health care workers from vaccination requirements, prompting immediate pushback from the state’s nurses’ union.
Brown announced that state agencies would mandate COVID-19 vaccinations for health care workers and all employees in public schools no earlier than Oct. 18. Her policy, which mirrors a mandate announced yesterday by Washingon Gov. Jay Inslee, allows no workarounds such as weekly COVID testing. Doctors, nurses and teachers must get vaccinated or lose their jobs.
“There are those who will disagree with the actions I’m taking today,” Brown said in a press conference. “But school is starting across the state. COVID-19 poses a threat to our kids. Our kids need to be protected, and they need to be in school. And that’s why I’m willing to take the heat for this decision.”
The governor’s announcement comes as Oregon faces a critical shortage of staffed hospital beds amid the surge of the Delta variant. On Wednesday, the Oregon Health Authority announced hospitals had just 7% of staffed beds still available, and 6% of staffed ICU beds.
In the past week, new COVID-19 hospitalizations more than doubled: 546 the week of Aug. 9, compared with 224 the week prior. In Southern Oregon, where the Delta variant is most rampant, some hospitals have run out of beds entirely.
The Oregon Nurses Association, which has consistently opposed a vaccine requirement for its members, said Thursday that Brown’s decision would only worsen the staffing shortage—because some nurses would quit rather than get a shot.
“We also know that some health care workers are deeply opposed to vaccine mandates; so deeply that some will leave the profession before accepting a mandate,” the union wrote. “Today’s decision to mandate vaccinations for health care workers may ultimately exacerbate an already dangerous staffing crisis in hospitals across the state.”
To follow through on her announcement, Brown will need to overrule an Oregon law, passed in 1989, that exempts health care workers, among others, from workplace requirements for vaccinations. That law says that employers can’t require vaccinations, except by a state or federal order. WW examined that law in detail last month.