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N.J. governor extends vaccine mandate deadline for COs

Corrections officers must be fully vaccinated by May 11 or within three weeks of becoming eligible for a booster shot


Earlier this year, Murphy set the Feb. 28 deadline through executive order, while eliminating an option to submit to weekly testing in lieu of getting vaccinated that had been part of a mandate last year.

Photo/Al Amrhein of via MCT

By Elizabeth Llorente

TRENTON, N.J. — Gov. Phil Murphy on Wednesday extended the deadlines for health care workers and corrections officers in New Jersey to get booster shots for COVID-19, a move that delays a flurry of potential firings among employees who have resisted the state’s vaccine mandate.

Health care workers must get their booster shot by April 11 or within three weeks of becoming eligible, whichever is later, according to the governor’s latest executive order, number 290.

Corrections officers and others who work in “high risk congregate care settings” must be fully inoculated by May 11 or within three weeks of becoming eligible for a booster shot.

Earlier this year, Murphy set the Feb. 28 deadline through executive order, while eliminating an option to submit to weekly testing in lieu of getting vaccinated that had been part of a mandate last year. Deadlines have already passed to receive the two-round dose of Pfizer and Moderna or the single shot of Janssen vaccine.

It is up to the hospitals and other employers affected by the mandate to impose disciplinary actions — including terminations — against non-compliant workers. Employers who do not enforce the mandate could face penalties, according to the order. Employers may grant exemptions based on medical or religious reasons.

The mandates have been controversial, especially among corrections officers. The Policemen’s Benevolent Association, the union that represents police and corrections officers, unsuccessfully challenged the mandate in court, arguing it was an example of government overreach, and an unnecessary one because COVID caseloads were falling.

A three-judge appellate panel ruled against the union for taking a “self-centered construct of ‘jabs vs. jobs’” without considering the harm to society. The state Supreme Court declined to take up the case, letting the appeals court ruling stand.

William Sullivan, the head of PBA local 105, the state’s largest union of corrections officers, said the extension for booster shots “doesn’t really help or alleviate anything” for his members who haven’t gotten any shots yet.

Only about 43% of the 7,000 state correctional employees were vaccinated as of mid-February.

The New Jersey Hospital Association, a lobbying group for hospitals and long-term care facilities, wanted a 90-day extension because it needed more time to encourage employees to get the booster shot.

The hospital association’s president, Cathy Bennett, issued a statement thanking the governor for the additional time.

“We greatly appreciate the governor’s flexibility in giving New Jersey healthcare workers additional opportunities to comply with the state’s booster shot requirement, and for sticking with the science that has guided New Jersey’s response throughout this pandemic,” Bennett’s statement said. “Our healthcare facilities continue to work closely with their team members to answer concerns, dispel misinformation and increase booster shot acceptance.”

Most hospital workers are required to be fully vaccinated without a testing option under an order by President Joe Biden that the U.S. Supreme Court upheld in January.

The state hospital association estimates that 90% of the hospital workforce has complied with the mandate. The association says it does not have data on how many have received a booster shot.

About 91% of staff at long-term-care and assisted-living facilities have their primary vaccine series, but only 61.2% have their booster, according to the state website, which does not track hospital employees.

“Over the course of our COVID-19 response, we have always followed the science in decision-making, and this is no different,” Murphy said in the announcement. “This executive order ensures that our COVID-19 vaccination requirements for covered workers in medical and high-risk congregate settings are able to properly keep themselves and those whom they care for safe.”

Throughout the pandemic, infections and deaths skyrocketed inside long-term care facilities and correctional centers. At various times, New Jersey reported more per capita deaths than any other state in these settings.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration continue to stress that vaccines are the best defense against a severe case of COVID-19, hospitalization and death — especially when bolstered by a booster shot.

Sullivan, the PBA leader, said his members remain resistant to vaccines, especially in light of the recent decision by the CDC to recommend males between the ages of 12 and 39 wait eight weeks, instead of four weeks, to get the second shot.

“Some studies in adolescents (ages 12-17 years) and adults have shown the small risk of myocarditis” — a heart condition — “might be reduced and peak antibody responses and vaccine effectiveness may be increased with an interval longer than 4 weeks,” according to the CDC website.

The change in guidance raises “trust issues” among his members, Sullivan said.

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