Governor issues COVID-19 vaccine mandate for public workers

By Pedro Correa Henry

Twitter: @pete_r_correa

Special to The Star

In hopes of increasing the vaccination rate and containing the coronavirus pandemic in Puerto Rico, Gov. Pedro Pierluisi Urrutia on Wednesday issued an executive order that makes COVID-19 vaccination mandatory for public workers who work in person starting Aug. 16.

During a press conference at La Fortaleza, Pierluisi, along with Health Secretary Carlos Mellado López, said that amid the COVID-19 case increase both in Puerto Rico and abroad, the administration issued the order that could impact some 27,000 workers to safeguard essential services and “counteract misinformation about vaccine efficacy and safety.”

“The order requires that every employee of Puerto Rico’s central agencies must have the first dose on or before August 16, and must have completed the vaccination cycle on or before September 30,” the governor said as he specified that the order applies to around 65 executive entities.

He added that workers with preexisting medical conditions who cannot receive vaccines or who “ legitimately have religious objections” are exempt from inoculation against the coronavirus.

Nevertheless, the order states that workers with preexisting medical conditions must be certified by a physician licensed to practice in Puerto Rico. In addition, the physician must certify the duration of the medical contraindication. Once the contraindication ceases, the person must comply with the vaccination requirement.

Meanwhile, employees who refuse vaccination on religious grounds must file an affidavit with a minister of their religion certifying, under oath and subject to perjury, that because of the employee’s religious beliefs he or she may not be inoculated against COVID-19.

Workers who refuse to vaccinate as ordered must hand over a negative COVID-19 test administered 72 hours prior on a weekly basis and observe safety measures such as using face coverings and physical distancing.

“The duration [of the order] shall be for as long as it is necessary,” Pierluisi said. “The rights of individuals are not absolute, and the government may establish reasonable restrictions that promote peace and good order.”

“I am setting the example here,” he added. “As the governor, I am the employer of the central government’s agencies; therefore, I am not ordering the rest of my workers to vaccinate now, I am telling them to start making their moves.”

Pierluisi said further that the executive order suggests that private entities and commercial establishments ask for either proof of vaccination or a negative test with a certified viral test 72 hours in advance.

Last Monday, several cities and agencies in the United States announced that they will require the vaccine for their employees.

New York City was the first to make such an announcement as Mayor Bill de Blasio ordered that, as of Sept. 13, 2021, all city employees must be vaccinated or, alternatively, must be tested for COVID-19 on a weekly basis.

Meanwhile, California was the first state to mandate a similar measure, where, starting in August, it is requiring vaccination for all its employees, or that they provide a negative COVID-19 test in regular intervals.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs was the first federal agency to implement a requirement that all healthcare workers must be vaccinated.