The Potluck

Senate GOP pushes for changes to state employee vaccine mandate, criticizing rollout of policy

By: - October 14, 2021 3:11 pm

Sens. Jim Abeler, R-Anoka, and Mary Kiffmeyer, R-Big Lake, held a joint hearing on Thursday and criticized Gov. Tim Walz’s state worker vaccine mandate.

Senate Republicans on Thursday argued the state should tweak its vaccine mandate policies to account for unvaccinated individuals who have natural immunity from previous infection and say the policy should have been struck through collective bargaining. 

During a Senate hearing, Sens. Jim Abeler, R-Anoka, and Mary Kiffmeyer, R-Big Lake, criticized DFL Gov. Tim Walz’s implementation of a vaccine mandate that requires state workers who work on-site to be vaccinated or submit to weekly testing. 

It’s the second hearing on the topic as Republicans continue to hammer at the Walz administration’s handling of the ongoing pandemic.  

“I’m just amazed that the very simple, obviousness of testing for antibodies meets such great resistance and seems to be ignoring the science,” Kiffmeyer said, citing studies from Cleveland Clinic and Israel. Kiffmeyer argued that people with natural immunity should not be subjected to the vaccine or testing mandate, and that the state should test them for antibodies.

The Cleveland Clinic, however, clarified in August that despite the research, it urges people to get vaccinated and acknowledged the limitations of its study.

“More research is needed,” the Clinic wrote in the statement. “We do not know how long the immune system will protect itself against re-infection after COVID-19, as our study only looked at individuals over a five-month period, or how well-protected previously infected individuals are against variants. It is also important to keep in mind that this study was conducted in a population that was younger and healthier than the general population.”

Meanwhile, the Israeli study is not yet peer-reviewed, and its own authors have acknowledged limitations, including only studying immunity against one vaccine, Pfizer/BioNTech. 

The state government vaccine and testing policy already allows for unvaccinated individuals to be exempt for 90 days from testing after they have been infected with COVID-19. 

Senate Republicans also argued that the policy should have been struck through collective bargaining, which was somewhat surprising given their frequent criticisms of collectively bargained contracts struck with DFL-aligned public sector unions

Minnesota Management and Budget said that to date, 74 state government workers have been placed on “no-pay” status for refusing to be vaccinated or tested. That figure does not include employees with boards or commissions.

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Ricardo Lopez
Ricardo Lopez

Ricardo Lopez was a senior political reporter for the Reformer. Ricardo is not new to Minnesota politics, previously reporting on the Dayton administration and statehouse for The Star Tribune from 2014 to 2017, and the Republican National Convention in 2016. Previously, he was a staff writer at The Los Angeles Times covering the California economy. He's a Las Vegas native who has adopted Minnesota as his home state. In his spare time, he likes to run, cook and volunteer with Save-a-Bull, a Minneapolis dog rescue group.