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Vainieri Huttle: Mandated Vaccines for Employees Working with High Risk Populations are Essential

When COVID-19 first raged through our state and a truly staggering number of people began losing their lives, many New Jerseyans anxiously awaited a vaccine that could combat this deadly new virus. Over a year later, residents now have access to vaccines that offer ample protection against this illness.

Although more than 5 million residents have rolled up their sleeves and are now fully vaccinated, there are still millions of people in New Jersey who are eligible for the vaccine yet are choosing not to get it.

Unfortunately, misinformation about the vaccine has been difficult to combat despite mountains of evidence that it is safe and effective. Even with ongoing efforts to inform and incentivize members of the public, some holdouts will inevitably remain.

When those unvaccinated individuals work with vulnerable people, their decision puts not only themselves, but the health and safety of those vulnerable people at risk. This is especially true in congregate living settings such as long-term care facilities, which are greatly impacted by infectious diseases.

Although the COVID-19 vaccines are highly effective, they may be less effective in immunocompromised people. There are also occasional cases of ‘breakthrough’ infections among the general, fully-vaccinated population – with older people and those with underlying conditions at greater risk for hospitalization and death when that happens.

Vaccinating as many people as possible significantly reduces the amount of exposure vulnerable people have to the virus so that they are much less likely to contract it and face those issues in the first place.

As Chair of the Assembly Aging and Senior Services Committee, I heard extensive testimony last year from the families of seniors in our long-term care facilities and veterans’ memorial homes. Their heartbreaking stories revealed the extent of the toll this virus took on their loved ones.

With hundreds of lives lost in our veterans’ homes alone, we cannot risk another outbreak of this deadly virus in our congregate living facilities going forward. That is why I support the decision to require certain vaccines or frequent testing for workers in certain health care facilities and high-risk congregate living facilities.

If someone works with these vulnerable populations, it is their responsibility to ensure the safety and well-being of those in their care. While our state is grateful to the employees who work hard to take care of the residents in these facilities, we cannot ignore the fact that their decision to remain unvaccinated is putting those very residents’ lives in danger.

The vaccine is free and readily available throughout our state, which means staff members can easily and equitably access the vaccine.

Other government officials, organizations, and employers have been taking similar steps to increase vaccination rates, both in and out of New Jersey.

CareOne – the largest private nursing home and assisted living facility owner in New Jersey – recently announced that it is mandating the vaccine for all staff members. Hospital systems such as RWJ Barnabas Health and Hackensack Meridian Health are similarly mandating the vaccine for employees. Many of the universities throughout our state, including Rutgers and Princeton, are also mandating the vaccine for students.

Around the country, New York Governor Cuomo is requiring all state employees to get vaccinated or undergo weekly testing. Companies such as Uber, Google, Saks Fifth Avenue and more are all mandating the vaccine. President Biden himself is requiring all federal workers to sign forms attesting they’ve been vaccinated or comply with mandatory masking, weekly testing, etc.

Even back before the pandemic, certain vaccines were already mandatory for various travelers, students and health care workers.

All of which is to say, a vaccine mandate for state and private employees working with vulnerable populations is not unprecedented at this point. I admire the steps these organizations and officials – and now New Jersey – are taking to save lives.

New Jersey must value the life of every single person in our care and work together to make it through this pandemic. Getting vaccinated is how we do that.


This piece was originally published on on August 6, 2021: