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Massachusetts Senate to mandate vaccine for lawmakers, staff

Senate President Karen Spilka and House Speaker Ronald Mariano spoke at an event earlier this year.Sam Doran/State House News Service

The Massachusetts Senate will require that senators and staff prove they have been vaccinated against COVID-19 by mid-October, Senate President Karen Spilka told colleagues Tuesday.

The mandate, which applies to about 250 lawmakers and staff, aligns with a similar requirement laid out last week by Governor Charlie Baker for 44,000 executive department employees and contractors, who could be fired if they choose not to be vaccinated and who do not have the option of undergoing regular testing instead. That makes it one of the nation’s strictest mandates for government workers.

“Vaccines have proven to be the best tool we have to reduce transmission and are our best hope to emerge from this pandemic,” Spilka told colleagues in a letter obtained by the Globe.

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Senate employees could face termination if they decline vaccines, according to documents Spilka circulated. As duly elected officials, senators cannot be fired. Senate leaders have tasked human resources staff with developing a compliance policy, which will include limited medical and religious exemptions, as well as enforcement mechanisms.

A number of other state leaders, including Attorney General Maura Healey, Auditor Suzanne Bump, Treasurer Deborah Goldberg, and officials at the state Trial Court and Appeals Court, have announced some version of a vaccine mandate for their workers. Several of those offices are permitting workers to undergo regular testing rather than be inoculated. Every University of Massachusetts campus is moving toward a vaccine mandate for employees without a testing alternative, said John Hoey, a spokesman.

The Massachusetts House is also expected to issue some kind of vaccination requirement, a spokeswoman for House Speaker Ronald Mariano said last week, as part of a return-to-work plan expected sometime in September.

“We’ll continue to work through the legal and logistical challenges that are unique to being a large legislative body,” the spokeswoman, Ana Vivas, said.

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The House has 160 members; the Senate has 40.

Public health experts say vaccine requirements are stronger without a testing alternative because even regular testing could miss some COVID-19 cases, allowing infectious individuals to spread the disease unknowingly.


Emma Platoff can be reached at emma.platoff@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @emmaplatoff.