AUSTIN — Gov. Greg Abbott is continuing to prohibit local governments, state universities and public hospitals from requiring anyone to get a
On Wednesday, Abbott, who is still isolating after testing positive for the virus last week, issued an executive order that continues to bar vaccine mandates by state agencies and political subdivisions. His earlier edict had just applied to
Abbott also added the topic to the agenda of the current special session of the Legislature, which has to end by Sept. 5.
In his proclamation, the Republican governor noted that lawmakers earlier this year approved a ban on “vaccine passports” by businesses. Abbott said he acted to preserve “uniformity” and freedom of choice by individuals.
“Given the Legislature’s prior actions, maintaining the status quo of prohibiting vaccine mandates and ensuring uniformity pending the Legislature’s consideration means extending the voluntariness of COVID-19 vaccinations to all COVID-19 vaccinations, regardless of regulatory status,” he said in the executive order.
Abbott’s move, which appeared to foil plans by Parkland Memorial Hospital and other institutions to require vaccinations as soon as the shots won final FDA approval, angered Democrats.
Rep. Julie Johnson, D-Carrollton, noted Abbott has had “a battle royale” with school districts and local governments over requirements that Texans wear masks.
“Now he’s *recklessly* banned #VaccineMandates,” she tweeted. “How about you pick on #COVID19 instead, Governor?”
Cases are surging, hospitals are filling up and Texas is second only to Florida in daily average of infections, noted Austin Democratic Rep. Donna Howard, a former critical care nurse.
“His original order on COVID-19 vaccines listed the fact that they were not yet FDA-approved as a part of the justification for refusing to require them,” she said in a written statement released by the House Democratic caucus.
“Now, the Pfizer vaccine is FDA-approved, and he’s moving the goalposts. … Again and again, Gov. Abbott squanders every opportunity to protect the health and safety of Texans.”
Harris County Attorney Christian D. Menefee, a Democrat, tweeted that “bans on vaccine mandates were never about the fact the vaccines had not yet been approved by the FDA. We always knew that argument was disingenuous, but now it’s indisputable.”
Abbott, though, said in a written statement that he wants lawmakers to weigh “whether any state or local governmental entities in Texas can mandate that an individual receive a COVID-19 vaccine and, if so, what exemptions should apply to such mandate.”
In the past, the Legislature has allowed exceptions for certain medical conditions and reasons of religion and conscience, he noted.
“Vaccine requirements and exemptions have historically been determined by the Legislature, and their involvement is particularly important to avoid a patchwork of vaccine mandates across Texas,” he said.
Lawmakers have enjoyed “primacy” in setting immunization policies, Abbott noted in the order.
It parrots much of his July 29 order. The earlier one consolidated Abbott’s June preemption of mask requirements by school districts and other government units, and set down three vaccine-related prohibitions, each covering COVID-19 vaccines “administered under an emergency use authorization” from the FDA:
The new order applies those same prohibitions to “any COVID-19 vaccine.”
Moderna and Johnson & Johnson shots are still being given under the FDA’s provisional approval.
On Monday, the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine received federal regulators’ full approval for use in people 16 and older, now that clinical trials showing it works well have spanned six months, not just two months.
Under both the July 29 and Wednesday’s edicts by the governor, nursing homes and other congregate care facilities for the elderly and disabled can continue to require “documentation of a resident’s vaccination status for any COVID-19 vaccine.”
Abbott continues to urge coronavirus vaccinations for those who want one. But Texas lags many other states in inoculating residents against the virus, a strain of which — the delta variant — is taxing many hospitals’ ability to treat patients. After spending billions last year on “medical surge personnel,” the state again is scrambling to find out-of-state health care professionals, especially nurses.
Abbott also is under fire from two Republican challengers in next year’s race for governor — former Dallas state Sen. Don Huffines and former state GOP chairman Allen West — for requiring businesses to limit capacity or close during the pandemic’s early months last year.
His orders preempting local mask requirements have sparked outrage and defiance in Texas’ biggest cities and a welter of lawsuits. Abbott’s ban of vaccine mandates also is being tested.
On Wednesday, the San Antonio Independent School District said that despite the governor’s move, it would “move forward” with a requirement that all employees receive a COVID-19 vaccine by Oct. 15 unless they have “a medical or religious exemption.”
Also, while large corporations such as Dallas-based Texas Instruments are requiring employees to be vaccinated, and Delta Air Lines this week disclosed that it will start charging employees on the company health plan $200 a month if they fail to do so, Abbott’s order is not so easily ignored by taxpayer-funded institutions.
It affects state universities and medical schools such as the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center.
Parkland Health & Hospital System, a publicly funded organization that falls under Abbott’s order, recently told staff it would require them to get a first dose of COVID-19 vaccine by Sept. 24 and a second, or a single J&J dose, by Oct. 15.
On Wednesday, president and chief executive Dr. Fred Cerise said Parkland is reviewing Abbott’s order.
Requiring employees to take the shots is an “infection control measure” that’s similar to many hospitals’ mandate of a flu shot, Cerise said in a written statement.
“We care for patients who are at high risk for contracting COVID and for doing poorly if they become infected,” he said. Patients with cancer and compromised immune systems are especially vulnerable, he noted.
“A large majority of private hospitals in Dallas have instituted a vaccine requirement for their employees,” Cerise said. “Restricting Parkland’s ability to do the same to protect our patients will exacerbate well-established disparities among lower-income and minority patients who disproportionately depend on Parkland for their care.”