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Massachusetts fires at least 60 DOC workers over vaccine mandate

This most recent termination tally could still rise



By Alison Kuznitz

BOSTON — The state Department of Correction has fired at least 60 employees who failed to comply with Gov. Charlie Baker’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate, which required more than 40,000 Executive Department employees to be fully vaccinated two months ago.

The most recent termination tally could still rise, MassLive was told Friday, as the Baker administration slogs through a dwindling number of vaccine exemption requests.

That includes workers who received their first vaccine shot but then suffered severe allergic reactions, prompting physicians to vouch for their patients to be excused from completing the two-dose vaccine regimen to be considered fully immunized under Baker’s order. It is unclear if those vaccines waivers will be granted — or if the workers could also be fired for noncompliance, MassLive was told.

The number of DOC employees fired — which includes correction and recreation officers, as well as custodians at state facilities — rose sharply since the end of November. At the time, MassLive had reported fewer than 15 employees had been fired after refusing to get vaccinated during 5- and 10-day unpaid suspensions.

The Baker administration did not answer MassLive questions on Friday about how many total Executive Department employees — which covers the Department of Public Health, MassDOT and Massachusetts State Police, among a slew of other agencies — lost their jobs over the governor’s mandate. Previously, the administration reported the vast majority of state workers did comply, while 11 were fired and 130 voluntarily resigned in late October.

Baker has repeatedly defended the Executive Department vaccine requirement, citing public safety needs during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Yet the administrative rollout of the mandate spawned confusion among some DOC workers whose initial approvals for vaccine waivers were “issued in error.”

“The Department’s obligation to protect the safety of your colleagues, prisoners, and members of the public during this ongoing and serious global pandemic, would require finding you a new position within the Department,” the DOC stated in an exemption rejection letter obtained by MassLive. “This would be an undue hardship on the ability of the Department of Correction to manage its operations.”

The governor opposes a statewide vaccine passport mandate, though Massachusetts is working with a coalition of about 20 other states to pursue a voluntary uniform vaccine verification system.

It is unclear when a digital QR code, as Baker displayed during a GBH interview last month, would be available to the public — or if the administration would forgo the effort. Health care providers such as CVS already provide digital vaccine credentials. Massachusetts also has a webpage where residents can access their digital credentials from mass vaccination sites held earlier this year, including at Fenway Park and Gillette Stadium.

Baker has encouraged all residents to get their COVID-19 vaccination and booster shots, particularly as coronavirus conditions deteriorate throughout Massachusetts and hospitals become inundated with patients. Top health experts testified to state lawmakers Thursday that vaccines remain a critical defense against the virus, even as scientists grapple to understand how effective the shots are under the threat of the highly transmissible Omicron variant.

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