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At least 300 Portland-area VA health care workers must get COVID vaccine or face consequences

Other Oregon hospitals are prohibited by law from mandating COVID-19 vaccines for employees

PORTLAND, Oregon — Health care workers at the Portland Veterans Administration (VA) hospital who are not vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus now have 8 weeks to get the shot, or face consequences.  

About 300 health care personnel in the Portland-area will be required to get vaccinated, a spokesperson told KGW. In total, there about 900 staff members across Portland VA's health care system that are unvaccinated so far.

On Monday, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs became the first big federal employer to require its health care workers get the vaccine. The nationwide order comes as the delta variant continues to spread around the country and in Southwest Washington and Oregon.

RELATED: VA mandates COVID-19 vaccination for health care workers

RELATED: Oregon reports 1,032 new COVID cases, highest daily total since April

It covers doctors, dentists, podiatrists, optometrists, nurses, physicians assistants and others. But not every hospital in Oregon can issue a coronavirus vaccine mandate for their health care workers.

“Oregon has a law that prevents hospitals from mandating vaccines on their work force,” said Becky Hultberg, CEO and president of the Oregon Association of Hospitals and Health Systems. “We are the only state in the country that has a law that prevents the very organizations responding to the pandemic from mandating vaccines for their work force."

RELATED: Hospitals in Oregon cannot mandate vaccines for employees

Oregon state law, ORS 433.416 deals with health care workers and immunizations - and states a “worker shall not be required as a condition of work to be immunized unless such immunization is otherwise required by federal or state law or rule or regulation.”

How could that change?

The Oregon Health Authority (OHA) could create a rule involving the COVID-19 vaccine.

The sticking point is whether OHA could allow each system to decide whether to mandate the shots or whether everyone would be forced to do it.

OHA Director Patrick Allen said on July 22 it’s all or nothing.

“It's not that we have the authority to adopt a rule that would permit organizations to require it. It's that we have the authority to require all organizations to require vaccination,” said Allen.

Hultberg, from the hospital association, agrees that not every system wants to require all their front-line workers to get the vaccine, but she does not believe it’s all or nothing.

“With some creativity and some out of the box thinking, we think they could craft a rule in such a way that it would allow for a level of flexibility,” Hultberg said.

Oregon Governor Kate Brown's office said they are studying actions taken by the VA as well as California and New York to see what further actions can be taken in our state to get health care workers vaccinated.

In the meantime, the percentages of vaccinations for those workers ranges from just 49% in Lake County to 81% in Washington County.

You can see how each county stacks up here.

Have a comment or story idea for Pat Dooris? Email him at pdooris@kgw.com