BRAZOS VALLEY, Texas — Despite the Pfizer vaccination for COVID-19 receiving full FDA approval this month, Governor Greg Abbott issued an executive order on Wednesday which reiterates that state government entities and state-funded businesses cannot mandate vaccines.
This executive order does make an exception for nursing homes and assisted living facilities. But, any organization funded in some way by the state, even though grants, is subject to this new iteration of GA 38.
Texas A&M’s Dr. Angela Clendenin, who serves as project manager for the Brazos Valley COVID Investigation Operations Center, said that the government has ruled in favor of mandating vaccinations in cases from the past, with situations ranging from smallpox to measles outbreaks.
“For an employer to mandate vaccines, for an employer to mandate masking – yes, we do have precedent, a very good precedent for that," Clendenin stated. "But it’s not just about keeping one person safe, the employer safe. It’s about keeping your coworkers safe, your colleagues safe.”
Texas A&M's Dr. Gerald Parker, director of the Pandemic and Biosecurity Policy Program at the Bush School of Government and Public Service, and a current Texas Vaccine Advisory Panel member, said that he would like to see powers shifted to local entities, in terms of mandating vaccines.
“I understand the rationale behind the governor’s executive order, trying to keep a uniform type standard in Texas," Parker commented. "But on the other hand, Texas is a big state. I believe there needs to be latitude for local decision making about some of the public health interventions.”
J.A. Wright, 3L law clerk of the Rose Sanders law firm in Houston shared his take on whether an employee would have the right to refuse a vaccine, should their employer require one.
“Well, according to the EOC, an employer may require an employee to get a COVID-19 vaccine," Wright said. "However, the state of Texas is an at-will state, which means that you can be fired at any time, for any reason.”
Wright noted that employees who want to avoid the vaccine for certain medical concerns may face a complex situation. He said an employee can seek an exemption for a medical reason such as pregnancy or preexisting condition, or for reason of conscience.
“If your employer can’t provide a reasonable accommodation because it would be too difficult or expensive, they may exclude you from entering the workplace," Wright pointed out. "However, the employer may not automatically terminate you from employment.”
Dr. Clendenin advised that when Texans listen to Gov. Abbott and consider the executive order about mask and vaccine mandates, they should note that the governor still pushes for individual Texans to vaccinate and wear masks of their own volition, to protect their fellow man.
“What he’s really saying is, it’s important," she stressed. "Masking is important, vaccines are important. He’s vaccinated. But, you need to do it because it’s the right thing to do.”
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