JESSICA TANG says it only makes sense at this point based on the data and science. But that kind of logic isn’t always driving the COVID conversation, so the Boston Teachers Union president’s comments earlier this week in support of a vaccine mandate for teachers is big news in the fight to contain the pandemic.
Lots of colleges are requiring students and staff to be vaccinated this fall, a range of private employers are beginning to adopt such policies, and yesterday the Boston area’s three largest hospital networks said they would require all employees to be vaccinated by the fall. But school districts and the public sector in general have been slower to move toward vaccine mandates.
“It’s really hard to ignore the facts and the science that show increased vaccinations, testing, and masking are the keys to mitigation to keep everyone safe,” said Tang, who supports a mandate that teachers either get vaccinated or to submit to regular COVID testing.
Her new position follows comments on Sunday by Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, BTU’s parent national union, who said vaccines should now be mandated for teachers as school districts prepare for in-person learning this fall.
Massachusetts teachers unions have advocated strongly for better ventilation systems and other efforts to mitigate spread of COVID. And they decried a shift in the state’s early vaccine rollout in January that moved them down a notch on the priority list, with Massachusetts Teachers Association president Merrie Najimy likening it to “the Hunger Games.”
While clamoring for greater vaccine access, no Massachusetts teachers unions had embraced — until now — the idea of requiring them.
Tom Scott, executive director of the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents, praised Tang’s position. The teachers union supporting this,” he said of a vaccine mandate, “I think goes a long way toward getting some consensus that this is the right way to go toward minimizing the danger to both adults and children.”
Tang said she does not have data on the share of Boston teachers who have been vaccinated but said the “vast majority” have been inoculated.
Neither the Mass. Teachers Association nor the state branch of the American Federation of Teachers that the Boston union is part of has announced support for a vaccine mandate.
Schools represent a particularly challenging setting for dealing with COVID and the much more transmissible Delta variant, since children under 12 are not eligible to be vaccinated. Even among older children who can now receive immunizations, vaccination rates in Boston remain very low. As of August 3, only 27 percent of Boston residents aged 12 to 15 had received at least one vaccine dose, according to the Boston Public Health Commission.
Scott said superintendents he talks to across the state “don’t see any way out of this without having some sort of mandated teacher vaccination or regular testing.” He said safety is the paramount responsibility of schools. “How do you guarantee safety without taking advantage of all the measures that are at your disposal to achieve it?” he said.
That said, Scott said districts have not yet rushed to mandate vaccines for teachers and other staff. In Boston, the teachers union seems to be out ahead of the city administration. Acting Mayor Kim Janey has held back on issuing a vaccination mandate for municipal employees, but a spokesperson suggests it may be coming.
“The city is working with our unions towards a mandate to require vaccination or regular testing for all City of Boston employees,” a city spokesperson said in a statement. She added, “Mayor Janey will have more to share on this soon.”
Municipal leaders will need to work out any vaccine mandates with unions representing public employees. “The question of vaccine requirements is much more complicated because of the need to bargain and the large number of bargaining units,” said Geoff Beckwith, executive director of the Massachusetts Municipal Association. He said a community could end up dealing with a dozen different unions while wanting to “come up with a consistent set of rules.”
For Boston, there are already indications of the challenge the city will face in getting all unions on board with the same policy.
Last Friday, the local news site Universal Hub reported on a letter from Boston firefighters union president John Soares to Local 718 members suggesting the union could end up in court over any vaccine mandate “if it cannot be decided at the bargaining table.” His letter said the union believes a mandate would be “a change in working conditions and violates the terms and conditions of our employment.”
That seems to suggest the union would be looking for some type of concession or compensation in exchange for a vaccine mandate. Soares did not respond to a message.
Tang said the teachers union would not seek anything in return for a mandate — though she did raise one potential sticking point that would have to be worked out. “I think what needs to be determined is, if you don’t get vaccinated and refuse regular testing, then what?” she said.
As with so much relating to the pandemic, things can change quickly, and it’s possible that the Boston Teachers Union will soon look less like an outlier than a leader. On Wednesday morning, SEIU Local 509, which represents nearly 20,000 human service and higher education workers, including 8,000 state employees, announced its support for a vaccine mandate for its members.
Vaccine mandates pushed: Three health care leaders from Massachusetts urged employers to require their workers to get vaccinated against COVID-19 and three major hospital systems — Mass General Brigham, Beth Israel Lahey Health, and Wellforce — heeded the advice by ordering their own employees to get vaccinated immediately and not wait for full approval of the vaccines from the Food and Drug Administration.
— At a Zoom forum sponsored by the Massachusetts High Technology Council, Peter Slavin, the president of Massachusetts General Hospital; Pete Healy, the president of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center; and Dan Barouch, the director of the Center for Virology and Vaccine Research at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, said vaccination is the only real protection against the Delta variant of the disease.
— Barouch said it is more important to get as many people vaccinated as possible rather than providing booster shots to people who have already received their shots. He also advised inoculating children as soon as vaccines being developed for them become available.
— Healy said one of the big lessons learned from the pandemic is the inadequacy of the US public health system. “To me this has demonstrated that our country is really not very good at public health,” he said. “Decisions are county by county, state by state, school district by school district. It’s not an effective way to do public health and I hope we can find a way within the cultural fabric of the United States to do public health safer and better.” Read more.
Housing Catch-22 on the Cape: Low inventory and high prices for housing on the Cape are driving year-round residents off the Cape and translating into a worker shortage at many businesses. For many residents, losing a lease now means packing up their lives and moving elsewhere. Read more.
Linsky tax debt: The Internal Revenue Service filed a lien for $154,000 in taxes against Rep. David Linsky of Natick. Linsky, who said tax bills stacked up because of a series of health and business issues, said he expects the lien to be removed because he is current on his payment plan. He said all of the money will be repaid. Read more.
Michael Cox, a former prisoner and the executive director of Black and Pink Massachusetts, is disappointed that a Biden administration directive for free access to PrEp, a drug that prevents transmission of the HIV virus, does not apply to people who are incarcerated. Read more.
FROM AROUND THE WEB
As COVID-19 infections at state prisons tick upward, advocates urge Gov. Charlie Baker to mandate vaccinations for employees the way he did at nursing homes. (WGBH)
Don’t want new neighbors? That’ll be $50,000, please. Changes to housing choice laws approved by Baker in January allow developers of affordable housing to ask a judge to impose a hefty fee on anyone appealing a housing project. (Patriot Ledger)
Acting Mayor Kim Janey appeared to leave open the possibility of using a shuttered hotel near Boston’s “Methadone Mile” to house homeless people a week after the idea seemed dead. (Boston Herald)
A fund created to raise money for an Andover youth center is now being used to pay wages to teenagers and city employees, raising ethical questions. (Eagle-Tribune)
Residents at apartments owned by Northeast Properties in Worcester have filed more than 100 complaints in court, alleging bedbugs and horrible living conditions. (MassLive)
With COVID cases rising, a number of communities have reinstated local mask mandates and advisories. (MassLive)
State Street Corp., one of the state’s largest employers, requires employees to be vaccinated. (Boston Business Journal) Are the vaccination rates in a set of Western Mass towns extreme outliers or are zip codes muddling the data? (WBUR)
New state data show there were nearly 10,000 breakthrough cases of COVID-19 in Massachusetts among fully vaccinated individuals. (MassLive) Of those, 100 breakthrough cases resulted in death, mostly among the elderly. (Associated Press)
The state’s flagship university will require all students and staff to mask up indoors, regardless of vaccination this fall, in compliance with new CDC guidance. The policy is a reversal of plans announced earlier this summer. (WBUR)
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced his resignation amid a barrage of sexual harassment allegations. The 63-year-old Democrat emphatically denied intentionally showing any disrespect toward women but said that fighting back against what he called the “politically motivated” attack on him would subject the state to months of turmoil. (New York Times)
Growing marijuana indoors requires massive amounts of electricity and the federal ban on shipping the product across state lines means no economies of scale in production. Those two factors mean marijuana is a climate change disaster in the making. One recent model estimated that Massachusetts’ nascent cannabis industry represented 10 percent of the state’s industrial electricity consumption in 2020. (Politico)
An influx of federal relief money and declining unemployment rates has business confidence soaring above even pre-pandemic levels, but the rosy outlook isn’t shared equally across the state or sectors. (WBUR)
A new marijuana establishment approved by the Westport Select Board last week will be the city’s first. Coastal Healing will operate by appointment only to curtail traffic and will pay a 3 percent tax on gross sales to offset infrastructure expenses. (Herald)
Tenant advocates are pushing for a statewide moratorium on evictions. (Gloucester Daily Times)
As COVID-19 cases rise across the state, not all New Bedford parents are ready to send their children back to in-person schooling. (South Coast)
More embarrassing woes for Boston School Superintendent Brenda Cassellius as the state education commissioner warns that she should avoid signing legal documents until the results are available sometime next month from the superintendent’s licensing exam she plans to take soon. Cassellius’s license lapsed at the end of July. (Boston Globe)
Pamela Angelakis, the superintendent of schools in Swampscott, apologizes for a letter in which she enthusiastically supports an effort to build a new school. The letter angered opponents of the school, who said she shouldn’t have used town resources to advocate for a project. (Daily Item)
“Test and stay”—a protocol in which asymptomatic people who have been in close contact with the coronavirus take daily rapid tests rather than quarantine—could help keep kids in school this fall. (Patriot Ledger)
JetBlue returns to Worcester Regional Airport August 20, resuming flights to New York after a year-long hiatus. (Telegram & Gazette)
Chelsea School Committee member Henry Wilson was arrested and charged with raping a 12-year-old boy. (Boston Globe)
Dan Kennedy interviews Nikki Usher, the author of News for the Rich, White, and Blue: How Place and Power Distort American Journalism, and she suggests the Boston Globe has bucked a national downward trend for mid-size papers because of John Henry’s “tolerance for loss” and the city’s large sector of “wealthy, educated, liberal Americans who see the value of paying for news.” Also, “Boston sports fans are rabid.” (GBH)