Lawmakers call for special session to address health-care workers’ rights regarding vaccinations

The Saint Alphonsus Urgent Care Clinic in Fruitland, as pictured Tuesday. Saint Alphonsus, St. Luke’s and Primary Health are among Idaho health organizations requiring employees and vendors to obtain vaccination for COVID-19.

PAYETTE COUNTY — As health officials become more concerned about the Delta variant of COVID-19, some Idaho employers are taking action to prevent its spread by requiring employees to receive vaccination. As reported in an Idaho Statesman article on July 8, employees of Saint Alphonsus, St. Luke’s and Primary Health in particular are being required to get vaccines.

The article also cited Richard Seamon, a law professor at the University of Idaho, who says that Idaho Code presently provides no restrictions against employers being able to require COVID-19 vaccination.

To learn how local lawmakers feel about employers taking such actions, the newspaper reached out to Reps. Ryan Kerby, R-New Plymouth, and Judy Boyle, R-Midvale, as well as Sen. Abby Lee, R-Fruitland. In a June 14 email, Kerby stated that Idaho employers being able to have such requirements is a troubling thing.

“I am opposed to this requirement. I was really surprised that this happened in Idaho,” wrote Kerby. “This is something I would expect in Oregon. It is quite embarrassing that liberal Oregon has better laws protecting the freedoms of their employees in this situation than Idaho does.”

In an email Tuesday, Boyle noted that she receives hundreds of emails daily regarding this issue. She said none of them are in favor of this move.

“I have already signed a letter supporting the Freedom of employees to decide if they want this experimental vaccine,” wrote Boyle. “I have always strongly supported St. Luke’s in many ways but I oppose their actions to force employees & contractors/vendors to get the vaccine.”

Boyle stated that while Idaho is a “right-to-work” state, that doesn’t mean employers get to take away their choice of medical procedures.

“In my opinion, these three large employers are making a huge mistake with these bullying tactics which will run off many of their specialized staff. I have attended both the rallies at the Capitol and St Luke’s Meridian to personally visit and listen to the concerns of the doctors and nurses. Even those who are vaccinated, say they will be leaving if this mandate isn’t stopped. This disrespecting & brow-beating has reduced staff morale which will not end well for the three employers nor the public when they need competent health care.”

But perhaps her biggest complaint is that federal law “does not allow an employer to mandate any type of medicine or vaccine which does not have full FDA approval. This vaccine only has FDA emergency approval which is much different.”

Kerby said his main concern is protecting employees’ freedoms, which he feels are being infringed upon.

“I believe this is heading for an unfortunate showdown, and would best be headed off by the hospitals walking back their requirements. Making office folks, [information technology] staff, plumbers and electricians who work on the buildings, etc. get the vaccine is really over the top.”

Both legislators noted that he would like to see a special legislative session to address this concern, but that such a session could be averted if employers back off of requiring vaccination.

“West Valley here in Canyon County, and the large hospitals in Kootenai, Twin Falls and Idaho Falls have not taken this step,” added Kerby. “They are acting in a much more reasonable fashion.”

So far however, as reported by the Associated Press, Senate Republicans have declined to call a special session to address this concern. This news follows their online meeting last Friday.

When asked about mask requirements on its campuses, Mark Snider, media coordinator for Saint Alphonsus, pointed to a news release dated July 8, which stated that Trinity Health system is requiring vaccinations across its national health system, except in Oregon as Oregon Revised Statute 433.416(3) forbids such a requirement for healthcare workers. Saint Alphonsus is a member of Trinity Health.

“[The vaccines] have received Emergency Use Authorization so they can be administered. The vaccines are authorized for use,” said Snider in an email Tuesday. “Saint Alphonsus participates in numerous approved research studies every year. These are carefully controlled scientific studies.”

“Safety is one of our core values and because of our commitment to providing safe care, ensuring our colleagues and providers are vaccinated is what is required at this time. We must trust the science and live up to our core values,” Odette Bolano, president and CEO of Saint Alphonsus, said in the release.

The Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines remain under emergency use authorization by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Snider said because they are under authorization, Snider said they are not considered experimental.

Pfizer announced to MarketWatch Friday that full approval of its vaccine is expected in January of 2022. In the meantime, however, Kerby has expressed faith in their effectiveness.

“There will always be mutations. Sounds like the vaccine will work on this [Delta] variant.”

Lee did not respond to requests for comment before press time.

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