The Pima County Board of Supervisors adopted a new vaccination policy for its employees on Tuesday, which will require those who work with vulnerable populations to get vaccinated or face potential termination.
At the board’s Oct. 5 meeting, supervisors directed County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry to come back to the board with options for a potential vaccine mandate.
The board approved a motion from Supervisor Rex Scott in a 4-1 vote to implement three components of the five options for a vaccine policy Huckelberry provided. Supervisor Steve Christy was the sole dissenting vote.
The supervisors directed county administration to develop a vaccination policy that would mandate vaccinations for employees working with vulnerable populations, such as county health-care workers, those who work with children or the elderly and employees of the Pima County Jail and Juvenile Detention Center. If these workers aren’t fully vaccinated by Jan. 1, they’ll be subject to “disciplinary action up to and including termination of employment.”
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The latest vaccination numbers show 79% of 6,275 county employees confirmed their vaccination status as of Oct. 10. The sheriff’s department has the lowest vaccination rate at 57% while eight of 48 departments are fully vaccinated, according to the county.
While Scott previously indicated he would not support vaccination policies that call for terminations, he said his mind changed when considering “vulnerable populations.”
“I think we have a duty to protect people who fall into those categories to all the extents that are practicable,” he said. “When that option was presented to us, it caused me to think very deeply about what it means to be a member of one of those vulnerable populations, and I feel it’s our duty to protect those people who are essentially defenseless.”
The new policy also prevents unvaccinated employees from taking part in off-duty employment opportunities, meaning the county won’t authorize its employees to work second jobs. Many sheriff’s employees take part in off-duty work opportunities such as private security.
The motion affirmed Huckelberry’s Aug. 31 administrative policy that all new county hires, as well as county employees seeking a promotion, must be vaccinated.
In less than a week, Huckelberry will provide the board with a comprehensive list of job classifications considered to work with vulnerable populations and therefore subject to the vaccine mandate. If any significant changes are made, the policy will come back before the board for ratification.
Supervisors rejected an employee vaccine mandate in August largely due to a slew of state laws that, among other things, banned local governments from requiring vaccines. A Maricopa County Superior Court judge struck those state laws down in a Sept. 27 ruling, making them unenforceable as the decision waits for review in the Arizona Supreme Court.
The Jan. 1 deadline for employees subject to the mandate to get the shot is to “allow the current litigation to play itself out,” Huckelberry said.
Supervisor Matt Heinz, who is also a physician at Tucson Medical Center, favored imposing a vaccine mandate for all employees, noting the state’s three major universities and the city of Tucson have done so.
“I think I still find all of this a little baffling. I come from a place where willfully endangering my patients, any of us in health care, that is a fireable offense,” he said. “I would like to move forward on some kind of requirement to vaccinate our employees, especially those who are dealing with folks who could be in that vulnerable population.”
Christy, who’s adamantly opposed COVID-19-related mandates throughout the pandemic, moved to impose no vaccine requirement, but his motion failed.
Contact reporter Nicole Ludden at firstname.lastname@example.org