A federal judge on Monday denied a last-minute bid by more than three dozen state employees, health care providers and school staff to temporarily stop the state's COVID-19 vaccination mandate.
U.S. District Judge Michael H. Simon rejected their motion for a temporary restraining order, marking the first federal judge's ruling after several state court decisions thwarting similar efforts to block Oregon Gov. Kate Brown's and the Oregon Health Authority's power to require that certain workers to get the vaccines or risk losing their jobs, The Oregonian/OregonLive reported.
At least 10 vaccine mandate challenges have been filed in state and federal court since September. The complaints stem from healthcare workers that include registered nurses, medical residents and physicians.
"In the middle of a global pandemic while infections and hospitalizations continue at high rates, Plaintiffs are not likely to succeed in showing that their individual interests in remaining unvaccinated outweigh the State's interest in public health and welfare," the judge wrote in a 55-page opinion.
State workers have had two months to prepare for the governor's deadline to be fully vaccinated, which came Monday for about 5,000 employees. It originally extended to about 43,000 executive branch employees, but the deadline for most is now Nov. 30 following negotiations with government employees' unions.
The judge found the plaintiffs failed to show they will be irreparably harmed by the vaccine mandate. While he said some state employees may face firing for failure to be vaccinated, he added that "it's still only money," and they can get their job back or pay reinstated if they prevail in the case at a later point.
Among the 42 plaintiffs are nurses, doctors, teachers and school athletic coaches including a LifeFlight paramedic, a hospice nurse, dental hygienist and pharmacist.
Attorney Stephen J. Joncus, representing the plaintiffs, argued that they have a constitutional right "not to be coerced into taking experimental medication," citing the 14th Amendment and the Nuremberg Code, which is a set of ethical principles for human experimentation.
The plaintiffs' arguments that the vaccines are dangerous or experimental, the state's lawyers said, are not supported by the top medical and public health authorities in the nation.
Simon noted the vaccine mandate offers state employees choices: either get the vaccine, apply for a religious or medical exception or find a job elsewhere including out of state.
"Plaintiffs have not shown that the international community collectively condemns this type of choice as the type of coercion that falls within the prohibition of the Nuremberg Code, particularly during a global pandemic and when the vaccine is FDA-authorized," Simon wrote.
The judge's ruling does not end the lawsuit. It allows state enforcement of the vaccine mandates as the case proceeds.