It has recently been announced that, because of regulations put out by the Oregon Health Authority (OHA), employees of the Portland Police Bureau will not be required to be fully vaccinated or submit to weekly testing. This is in spite of a vaccine mandate for City of Portland employees that went into effect on October 18 of this year. The mandate requires that employees either be fully vaccinated or granted exemption for religious or medical reasons. Before the city mandate there was a statewide vaccine mandate for health care workers issued by Oregon Governor Kate Brown.
According to Section 433.416 of Oregon Law, it is illegal for employers to require immunization of healthcare workers and emergency response employees unless mandated by state or federal law. The Oregon Health Authority issued guidance on September 3 saying that police officers most likely do not meet the standard of healthcare workers. Police officers do receive medical training, and some are even licensed healthcare providers, but providing medical care is not considered a fundamental part of their job. This means that Brown’s mandate cannot be applied to them, according to the OHA. The only exception to this, included in OHA guidance is, “If a police officer has a job that by definition requires them to provide medical care to individuals.” In that case Governor Brown’s mandate could be applied.
As Terri Wallo Strauss, Public Information Officer with the Portland Police Bureau, made clear, “This doesn’t mean [police] officers are not getting vaccinated, it just means they aren’t required to.” The Bureau has not been tracking the number of vaccinated employees because they were not asked to, so they don’t know the exact number of vaccinated officers. “We do know a majority of our Bureau members (sworn and nonsworn) are [vaccinated] because they attended a city clinic that provides vaccines,” says Strauss.
The City Attorney’s office says that, “the City initially understood the Governor’s vaccine mandate [to be] broad enough to include police, and applicable since it was adopted into a regulation by the Oregon Health Authority.” The city will continue to move forward with the vaccine mandate, just not for the police force.
The Portland Police Association, the city’s police union, pushed back against the city mandate because they’re concerned about how many officers would rather resign than submit to a vaccine mandate. According to Wallo-Strauss there have been over 100 resignations since July 2020. Any increase in the number of resignations could become problematic for the bureau. The PPA did not respond to a request for comment.
Even though the City of Portland will not be able to enact any sort of vaccine mandate for the Portland Police Bureau, they still encourage everyone, including police officers, to get their COVID-19 vaccination in order to minimize the spread.